Young woman’s haunted apartment paints itself in this Virginia ghost story by Kyle Moore.
Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing.
Deirdre groaned and rolled over, a creaky arm slowly reaching out for the source of the offending noise. She felt the molded plastic of her alarm clock, let her fingers slide over its surface until they found the nice, long, big button, and she pressed down with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Sweet, blissful silence followed.
She knew she had to get up. Deirdre had danced this dance every morning for years. The nine extra minutes in bed the snooze button offered her didn’t really do much beside give her less time to get ready for work. Still, with a devotion that bordered on religious, she slammed the snooze button every morning in the desperate hope that nine extra minutes would magically turn into nine extra hours.
Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing. Bing-Bong-Bing.
No such luck this morning.
Deirdre flipped onto her back, and this time let her fingers search for the much smaller, nastier, evil button that stopped the alarm for good. This of course meant she would have to open her eyes and get up and get dressed and for this reason she really—really—hated that stupid little button.
She took a deep breath and braced herself for the official opening of the eyes. She silently whispered the prayer of the non-morning person—the one that beseeches the gods to let the alarm clock be wrong for once, and let it be the middle of the night instead of way-too-early o’clock—and let her eyelids tentatively drift apart.
On this morning they had parted to paper-thin slits before slamming wide open with shock.
A flood of questions poured into Deirdre’s brain as adrenaline coursed its nauseating, shaky, energy into her body. Wrong. Something was wrong. Everything was wrong. What was it? What was wrong? What happened?
The first truly coherent question Deirdre could pin down out of the panicked webbing of her thoughts was, “Where the hell am I?”
But that question made no sense. For one, there was no reason for her to have woken up anywhere but her own bed. The night before all she did was come home, watch some TV, and eat a microwaved Lean Cuisine dinner because at thirty she was going to get in shape at least once in her damn life. She didn’t go out, or visit any friends. Nothing.
For another, Deirdre was surrounded by her things. That alarm clock was her alarm clock. She knew it; it was her nemesis. The two of them had waged countless early morning battles against each other. This bed was her bed. After divorcing that asshole Tony, she made a big production of buying exactly the kind of bed she wanted, and the pillow top beneath her was as familiar as her own reflection. The dresser was hers, complete with clothes haphazardly trying to creep their way out to freedom. There was even the pile of dirty laundry in the corner which she considered a cherished luxury of single life.
So if this was her room, came the next coherent question, why in the hell were the walls the wrong color?
They should have been off-white. They had been off-white for the two years she lived in the little apartment. They were most definitely not supposed to be the minty green that currently surrounded her.
An absurd thought popped into her head. Maybe someone snuck in and, as a practical joke, repainted her room as she slept. Mindy, from work, still had a key; Dierdre let her crash on the sofa from time to time. But if that was the case, why didn’t she smell paint fumes? Deirdre raised her hand and brushed a finger along the wall beside her. It was perfectly dry. So what the hell happened?
Deirdre glanced briefly at the clock. “Shit,” she hissed. It was getting late and she hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.
Flinging off her blanket and sheet, Deirdre leaped from the bed and made her way to the closet. The whole time she pulled on her clothes, she eyed the green walls of her bedroom. A prickling sensation crawled over her skin and she felt afraid to look away on the off-chance that when she looked back the walls will have changed color again, or jump out and yell, “BOO!”
Hair. Teeth. No time for make-up, but that wasn’t much of an issue. Deirdre, unlike her mom, was not the kind of woman who had to “put her face on” before she could leave the house. Instead she just grabbed her purse, and backed out of her bedroom.
Her first impulse was to leave the door open, but the oddity of the green walls continued to set her on edge, and she pulled the door closed to little relief. The last thing she thought as she darted out of her apartment was, there goes my security deposit.
At work, Deirdre found herself in the odd position of wanting to tell someone, but not really knowing what to say. Nor did she really know who she could trust anyway. How would she sound telling people in the office that her bedroom mysteriously changed color while she was sleeping.
To this end, Deirdre did at least make a point of spending a little time around Mindy. While the unusually tall redhead gabbed on about her latest, greatest, boyfriend, Deirdre nodded and pretended like she cared. In truth she was waiting for some slip on Mindy’s part, some clue that her friend had somehow managed to pull off the prank of the century.
“And then, oh let me tell you about last night,” Mindy said, and Deirdre found herself all of a sudden paying very close attention to what was being said.
“Mike took me to that little Italian restaurant by the airport in Norfolk. You know the one? It is so good. Anyway, we get a bottle of wine, and the lighting in there is perfect and just as the tiramisu comes out he gives me this,” she said as she pulled out a shiny silver key from her purse.
“Wow, Mindy, that’s… impressive,” Deirdre said. What she really wanted to say was, “And that’s when the two of you decided to sneak into my place, drug me, and paint my walls green because, ha ha, that would be so funny, right?” Instead, she simply added, “that’s pretty serious for you, isn’t it?”
“I know but he’s so…” Mindy continued, but Deirdre lost interest almost immediately. Mindy was not this good at keeping a straight face, and therefore not the culprit. The mystery remained unsolved.
When she got home from work, Deirdre headed straight for her room. As she wrapped her fingers around the door knob, she closed her eyes and whispered, “Please be white, please be white, please be white.”
She turned the door knob, opened her eyes, and pushed on the door to reveal that the walls were still green. Deirdre deflated.
No longer worried about showing up late for work, Deirdre took a few moments to inspect the walls a little more closely this time. The paint job was expertly done—no spatters of paint on the carpet or the trimming along the floor. It was all perfectly uniform, no spots where the paint ran a little thin. There were no brush strokes or roller marks to speak of either.
Then Deirdre had a thought. She went over to her dresser and started to shove it away from the wall. The wall behind the dresser was green too.
Deirdre was stuck. She could call the apartment people, but she didn’t want to risk being evicted. She couldn’t call the police; even if she didn’t sound completely insane, Deirdre was sure that the police had more important things to worry about than some phantom interior designer.
The following day, the new wall color did make Deirdre a little uneasy, but the apprehension wasn’t as bad as the morning when she first woke up to discover it. The day after that was a little better.
By the time a week had passed, she had just about gotten used to the new green walls. All things considered, the color could have been worse.
Then, after her daily routine of battling with the alarm clock, Deirdre opened her eyes to discover the walls were now eggshell blue.
“What the fuck is happening?” she whispered to her empty room. Only now she didn’t feel afraid quite so much as just bemused. For the price she paid for the one bedroom apartment, there were much bigger problems she could have expected. She could have had rowdy neighbors, or lived in a high crime neighborhood—this was Portsmouth after all. There could have been maintenance issues or, the worst, insects (one of her least favorite things about living in the South, the bugs were huge). But instead, all Deirdre had to deal with was a bedroom that had a hard time deciding what color it liked best.
If humankind were to have one remarkable super power, it is that ability to take the bizarre, the strange, and the impossible, and make it completely mundane. After a month of watching her room go from one color to the next, Deirdre not only stopped feeling any kind of fear or apprehension at all, but instead grew somewhat fond of the phenomena.
Another month passed and Deirdre realized that the changes weren’t just random, but that the room seemed to try to match her mood. If she went to bed uncommonly happy, she might awake to find her walls were sunshine yellow. After a particularly rough and depressing week at work, her walls were cornflower blue.
The morning after Deirdre went on her first date with Brent from accounting, the room surprised her with pink walls, coaxing a smirk out of her. “Very cute,” she grumbled happily.
Deirdre knew she didn’t control the color of the walls, but she did guess that they were complimenting her somehow. After a week of pink walls, Deirdre announced to her bedroom that she rather liked purple. She went to the store, bought purple blankets and sheets, and the next morning, to no surprise at all, Deirdre’s walls matched perfectly.
The walls had become something of a happy little secret for Deirdre—her own bit of daily magic. Looking back, it seemed silly that she was frightened of the color change at all.
It was the night before a big date for Deirdre and Brent. They’d been going out for a month now and she was starting to think it might be time to take things a little further. And by further, what Deirdre really meant was athletic. Clothing was optional.
She liked him. Hell, she had some intense feelings for him, but after Tony, those feelings weren’t easily trusted. But Brent was what she needed, as un-Tony like as could be. It was a scary romance, but Brent made scary easy somehow. If Deirdre was going to make a fool of herself over a guy again, Brent felt like the safest place to land.
As she lay in her bed, Deirdre spoke to the room, which had become something of a habit over recent months. “Help a girl out tomorrow? Can you do something nice and romantic?”
She chuckled sleepily to herself. Deirdre had just officially asked her bedroom to be her wingman. Bet that’s never happened in the history of ever, huh?
And with thoughts of Brent here, in her secret little magical place, Deirdre fell asleep.
It was a Saturday, so Deirdre thankfully didn’t have to wake up to an alarm. She could feel the sun pouring through the window and warming her exposed skin when she sleepily let her eyes fall open. The walls were the color of lavender.
“Very nice,” she purred in appreciation. “A little girly for me. But then, I am a girl, and we definitely don’t want Brent to forget that toni…”
She froze. The color of lavender only covered the walls from the ceiling down to about knee height. Below that, the walls were the old color, a festive lime green (a color Deirdre had come to associate with playfulness and energy. It had been a good week).
“You didn’t finish,” she said, a little disappointed. “Are you getting lazy on me?”
Deirdre swung out of bed and scowled good-naturedly at the walls of her bedroom. “Lucky for you I don’t have anything better to do today. Go on, take the rest of the day off. I’ll run to the store and finish the job.”
With that, she snapped a few photos of the wall with her cell phone, and used those to find the right paint at the hardware store.
As she was getting ready to finish the job, Deirdre noticed a kind of disheveled chaos where the old color and new color met. Her eyes traced the boundary, over jagged knife edge lines that jerked up and down. An eerie chill crept over her skin and she got the intense feeling that she was witnessing the remnants of some kind of fight or struggle. It was almost like the ghost painter that started out turning the walls lavender was wrestled away from its work.
There was only one thing to do though, and she carefully used a roller to spread paint along the walls. The people at the hardware store were good, and when she finally finished a few hours later, she could hardly tell where her mysterious friend stopped and she started.
“Don’t worry,” she told the walls. “You’re still my favorite. I’d never try to replace you.”
This time, though, when she talked to the walls, a very different feeling came over her. Of course the walls never talked back, that would just be crazy. But Deirdre always felt like, it was hard to say, but it was like they at least appreciated the effort. Now, as she spoke to the walls, Deirdre was filled with a sense of cold emptiness.
She shook her head. That’s what you get for having magical walls that change color, D, she thought to herself as she hauled the paint equipment out of the bedroom. You start talking to the walls and get your feelings hurt when they don’t talk back.
Pushing the thought out of her mind, Deirdre took the paint and rollers out to the back patio. She’d have to figure out what to do with the leftovers later. It was getting late in the day, and she would have to shower, change, and get ready for her date. If she was very lucky, turned the fan on, and left the windows open, the paint might just be dry and the fumes dispersed in time for a romantic night with Brent.
Deirdre made her way back into her room, took half a step, and screamed.
On the far wall facing the door, in bright red, were two giant letters:
“What the hell is this?” she breathed. That cold empty feeling returned, only this time she thought she could feel something else hiding in the emptiness, something icy and dangerous. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest, the war drum rhythm playing a machine gun beat in her ears.
She reached for her cell-phone and dialed Brent.
“Hey you,” his voice came through on the other side. She could hear the smile in his words.
“Hey,” she said back, and turned from the wall.
“Uh-oh,” he said.
Deirdre frowned. “What, uh-oh?”
“That tone. That was an, ‘I’m canceling our date,’ tone if I ever heard one.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Deirdre tried desperately to keep her voice steady, but she could hear the trembling fear slithering into her words.
“No, no, no,” Deirdre blurted out, interrupting him. She took a couple of steps out of her bedroom, her free hand resting on the door knob, almost pulling the door completely closed.
“Then why—“ Brent started, only for Deirdre to interrupt him again.
“Look, Brent, it isn’t you. Or us. We’re fine, okay? I just have some… uh… maintenance stuff happening at the apartment. Last second. I can’t let it wait. I’m going to have to call the maintenance people and get them out here, and ugh… just a mess, and I don’t know if I’ll have it all tied up before our date tonight.”
She could hear the relief in his voice when he again spoke. “Oh. Good. I mean, not good. Are you okay? Anything I can help with.”
“No, no. That’s what I pay the maintenance people for, right? Besides, I know you and tools don’t mix. Probably best if you stayed as far away from a wrench as possible.” Deirdre threw in a chuckle for good measure.
Brent laughed with her. “All right, all right. Fine. But if you need a place to crash tonight, you’re welcome here.”
All of a sudden Deirdre’s heart was racing for a completely different reason. “Oh really?” she said, a little more breathlessly than she liked.
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”
You would, she thought, disappointed. Not that she was desperate, of course, but it had been almost a year. “Let’s just, see how things work out. If anything changes, I’ll call you later. But if not, maybe I can see you tomorrow?”
“Deirdre Hart, are you asking me on a date?” Brent gasped in a melodramatic voice.
“You’re a true romantic. Look, take care of yourself and let me know how things work out, okay?”
“I will,” she smiled. “Bye.”
Deirdre hung up the phone. There was something about that guy that even now, when some seriously strange shit was happening, he could make her forget it all for just a moment and smile.
She opened the door to her room. “Okay, if you don’t want me going on dates, we’re going to have—“ Deirdre started to say and froze, her voice dying in her throat. Whatever comfort Brent was able to give her evaporated, her fist clenched the doorknob as she shuddered in horror at the sight before her.
The word NO, large and red, glared angrily at her, but it was no longer alone. The word NO repeated itself over and over again, from ceiling to floor, in seething red letters. The words were different sizes and loomed at Deirdre from different angles, each scarlet stroke sharp and jagged like a hunting knife.
Deirdre stared, immobilized by terror, as tendrils of red slid down from the angry letters. A salty, coppery, smell filled the air, curled around her, and twisted her stomach in knots.
Across from her, in the empty center of the O from the first NO, Deirdre watched, transfixed, as a single spot appeared on the wall. At first it was so dark as to almost appear black, but as the spot slowly drew downwards, It too adopted the sickening red color of the rest of the letters on the walls. She remembered watching one of those cop shows on TV, where they were in the morgue doing an autopsy. That’s what this looked like, that first moment when the scalpel pierced the flesh and blood pooled up on the skin.
It was almost hypnotizing, watching as a spot turned first into a downward streak. Then a swooping curve, and another streak. She could not tell how long it took before the message was finished, maybe minutes, maybe hours; the horror that filled Deirdre so complete that something as mundane as time held no more meaning for her. When the new letters had finished spelling their single word message, though, Deirdre sobbed, a tiny squeak that curled around her throat.
Deirdre’s hand rose, as though to cup her mouth and nose, but before it could reach her face, she felt something wet slap against her opened palm. Feeling numb, she went to look at her hand. Everything felt fuzzy and seemed to move too slow, as though the world had been wrapped in some invisible cotton.
In her palm a tiny red pool glistened sickeningly, the smell of salt and copper now thicker than ever. Some part of her, dazed, had just enough sense to think, What is this in my hand? It was like she had an autopilot somewhere in her brain that took over the thinking when the real Deirdre was too scared to do anything. It was this autopilot that, wondered from where this strange red liquid came, that tilted her head up, her eyes scrolling over one angry red NO after another.
Directly above her, there was a circle on the ceiling that had turned pink. It was faint at the edges, but grew gradually darker until at the center it was almost red. Deirdre watched as a droplet formed at the center. It clung to the ceiling at first, a deep, wine-colored red. But soon it swelled, growing fat and bloated and it dropped.
It hit Deirdre in the face, just above the lip.
Deirdre didn’t stop screaming until she had left the apartment, and even then not until she sat shuddering in her car for at least ten minutes.
That was the last time Deirdre stepped foot in the apartment. She hired some movers, and paid extra for them to pack her things as they were. She hired a maid service too, and, handing one of the ladies an extra hundred dollars, Deirdre said, “Just, do what you can with the bedroom?”
When she went to the leasing office, she had her checkbook and pen at the ready. “I’m sorry about the bedroom,” she said in a quiet, beaten voice. “How much do I owe you?”
The lady at the other side of the desk looked over a set of gold-wired half-moon glasses and offered Deirdre a confused smile. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t I… Figured I would have to pay for damages to the bedroom?” Deirdre said with furrowed brow.
“Ms. Hart,” the older woman chuckled. Her voice sounded like fine wine. “I’m holding your security deposit here. Most people who live with us don’t typically get it back but we couldn’t find a thing wrong with your unit. The bedroom, was fine.”