Melissa R. Mendelson is a poet but also a horror, science-fiction and dystopian short story author. Her stories have been published by Sirens Call Publications, Dark Helix Press, Altered Reality Magazine, Transmundane Press, and Owl Canyon Press. She won second place in the WritersWeekly.com 24 Hour Short Story Contest.


by Melissa R. Mendelson


Under any other circumstance, I would not have taken the apartment, but it was the only one available. There were others, but they would not be ready for a few weeks or longer. The job started Tuesday, and the landlord was anxious to find a renter. So what if someone died in the apartment?

“She died in her bed. She was a widow. She didn’t have any relatives that I know of, so there was no one to call.” The landlord stood by the apartment door. “Are you okay with keeping her furniture? If you want to get rid of it, I know a service that I could call.”

“It’s fine.” I couldn’t afford furniture. “It’s nice.” I looked at the couch and loveseat. The plastic covering would definitely come off, but I could use the furniture. I liked the kitchen set too.

“What about her bed?” the landlord asked.

I cringed. I did not want that bed, figuring that a dead body had lain on it. “It can go. I have an air mattress that I’ll use until I replace the bed.” Please take the bed, I thought.

“And the furniture in the bedroom?”

“It can stay. Not the bed, and I’ll find a donation place for her clothes.”

“Okay.” The landlord checked her watch. “I have a dinner date.” She looked around the apartment. “So, yes?” She watched me nod. “Great. You passed the background check. The lease agreement is on the table, if you don’t mind signing it.”

She checked her watch again. “The old lady kept to herself. She made no noise, no problems. Can I expect the same from you?”

“Yes.” I signed the lease agreement. I waited for her to walk over to me, but she remained standing by the apartment door. “No problems. I promise,” and I walked over to her. 

“Good. Do you need help with your stuff in the car? I could ask my son to come downstairs and help you.”

“No. I got it.” There was only a suitcase, one box and an air mattress in the car. “I can pay now, if you want.”

“If you don’t mind.” The landlord finally stepped into the apartment. She avoided looking at the bedroom. “I had to be the one that found her,” she muttered, and she picked up the lease agreement. “Thank you.” She took the cash out of my hands.

“How did she die?” I watched the landlord pale at the question.

“I don’t like to discuss such things, but she wasn’t killed or anything. The neighborhood is safe. At least, this neighborhood. I have to go.” She hurried out of the apartment.

“When did she die?” But my answer was the slamming of the apartment door. Okay. You wanted this new job, so you got the apartment. Just deal with it. 

I removed the plastic covering from the couch and loveseat. It reminded me of the furniture in my grandparents’ house. I hated sitting on the plastic. You stuck to it, especially during the summertime. The plastic covering was easy to remove from the loveseat, but the couch took some work.

The landlord never said when she would remove the bed. I would have to remind her tomorrow. I didn’t want it in the bedroom any longer than that. Until then, I would sleep in the living room. There was a space near the window large enough for the air mattress. I just had to get it out of the car, and when I stepped outside, I shuddered. Maybe this apartment was a bad idea, but I needed the job.

I set up the air mattress and then nuked a frozen meal that I had picked up earlier. It was finally time to walk into the bedroom. I needed to hang up my clothes, which meant removing hers. I found some black garbage bags in the kitchen and carried it into the bedroom. The room was small, and the lighting was dim. I waited a moment, but luckily, no ghosts were there.

I walked over to the closet door and reached for the doorknob. “I swear if you’re in there, then I’m leaving,” and I threw the door open. Darkness. Some old clothes with shoeboxes on the bottom. A terrible smell of mothballs. This apartment definitely reminded me of my grandparents.

I removed her clothing, folding them gently and placed them carefully into the black garbage bags. I placed the shoeboxes on top of them.

I was about ready to hang up my clothes when something caught my eye. I pushed the hangers aside and knelt down. Something was attached to the back wall.

I pulled out my cell phone, turned on the flashlight and shined it against the wall. A diamond ring shined back, and it was tied with a metal wire to a black and white photograph. The photograph was nailed to the wall.

“Why did she do that?” I pulled at the photograph. Part of the top ripped, but the tear did not touch the couple or the little girl standing between them. “Why did she hide this picture, and is that her husband? I guess she must have had a child, but what happened to the little girl?  The landlord said she didn't have relatives.”

I sat on the floor and worked on the metal wire that tied the ring to the photograph. Worse-case scenario, I could cut it, but the tie finally came undone. I slid the diamond ring onto my finger. It fit perfectly. I could sell the ring and get money for it. The money would help, but I liked the ring. What would I do with the photograph?

I stared at the photograph. It was a beautiful couple when they were both young, smiling at each other. Their expressions held a secret that only they seemed to share. The little girl was not smiling. She was looking away. I turned from the photograph but then looked back.

Suddenly the little girl was staring at me.

I dropped the photograph. I threw it into one of the black garbage bags and tied it shut. How did the photograph change? Why would that little girl stare at me? Did she know that I was wearing the diamond ring? Did it belong to her or the woman in the picture? I tried to pull the ring off my finger. It wouldn’t come off.

“Don’t panic,” I said to myself. “You must not have looked closely at the photo the first time, so you didn’t notice where the girl was looking.  And your finger’s not swollen. The ring just won’t come off, but I can find someone tomorrow to remove it.”

I looked over at the bed. There was almost a shape under the covers as if the old lady was still lying there. I turned to the garbage bags nearby and felt disgusted. What was I doing? All this for a job that might not work out? Maybe I was better off just going home. I looked at the ring stuck on my finger. Maybe after I have it removed, I would leave, but right now, I had to wait for tomorrow.

I needed a bath. I liked that the old lady had a clawfoot tub. A warm bath would be great to end the night, and maybe the ring would loosen with soap and slide off. If it didn’t, then tomorrow I would find someone to remove it.

I stepped into the bathroom and started running the faucet. Unlike the bedroom, the bathroom was bright and airy. The water felt great against my hand, but I didn’t want it too hot. I ran my hand under the water until the temperature was just right. I sat on the edge of the tub and watched it fill up. Maybe if I kept my hand under the water, the ring would loosen, but I found myself staring at it. It wasn’t a wedding ring, maybe an engagement ring, but why was it tied to a photograph that was nailed to the wall?

Suddenly, music filled the apartment. It reminded me of one of those World War II movies, where the soldiers danced with the girls before leaving for war the next day. I had the unhappy realization that perhaps the walls were thin, and I would be able to hear my landlord upstairs. After all, I was not playing music, so it had to be her.

But didn’t she say she had a dinner date? Perhaps she was still getting ready for it and hadn’t left yet, and her son would be home either way. Perhaps it was he who played the music.

I opened the bathroom door. The lights in the apartment were off except for the dim lamp in the bedroom. That light cast an eerie glow. What happened to the other lights? Just then, the lights returned, flickering on and off. As I made my way into the living room, something brushed past me. 

I screamed but then covered my mouth. Something brushed past me again. My eyes tried to adjust to the flickering lights. The lights snapped on, and I was blinded for a moment.

I looked towards the living room, and there they were. The couple from the photograph, and they were in black and white, just like the photo. They held each other as they danced to old fashioned music and ignored me as if I was the one not there. A flash shined from the woman’s hand, and I realized it was the diamond ring; the same ring that was still stuck on my hand.

A scream pierced the apartment. It wasn’t me. A second scream followed. It was coming from the bathroom. I heard water splashing wildly about, spilling onto the floor. It was the little girl from the photograph. She was drowning in the bathtub.

I tried to help her, but when I pulled her up, she slipped through my hands. I tried again, but she fell back into the water. I realized only her parents could save her, and I hurried into the living room. They were still dancing, lost in each other’s embrace, and seemed not to be concerned about their daughter. I grabbed hold of them, and they waltzed right through me.

I ran back to the bathroom. The water was still. The little girl lay at the bottom. The music stopped.

Not knowing what else to do, I went back into the living room. The man disappeared. The woman looked at me. She could see me, but her face was still in black and white. She said something, but I didn’t understand what she was trying to say. She reached for my hand with the diamond ring but then faded away like the ghost that she was.

I did not want to stay in this apartment, and I wanted the ring off my finger. I tried to remove it once again, but it was still stuck fast. I decided I would find a motel room for the night. There was nothing else that I could do, and I was definitely not going to take a bath after experiencing what I saw. I reached into the bathtub to pull out the plug.

Something grabbed hold of my wrist. I tried to yank my arm free, but the grip was too strong. I looked into the water. It was the little girl. She smiled at me, and as she smiled, she decomposed into a monstrous corpse.

I again tried to break free, but the little girl’s nails dug into my skin. I felt dizzy, cold, my eyes heavy. Somehow, I knew that the only way I could remove the girl’s grip was to remove the ring. For the final time, I struggled to pull it from my finger. I wrestled with the metal band. The ring fell off.

I fell back onto the bathroom floor and looked up. The little girl stood in the bathtub, holding the diamond ring in her hand. “It’s not yours,” she screamed, bursting into water that splashed over me. The ring fell to the floor.

“Are you okay?” The landlord and her teenage son hurried into the bathroom. “We heard all this screaming. Did you fall? You’re bleeding.”

I looked at the ugly gash on my arm and then over at the diamond ring. “I’m okay,” I said. I knew they would not be able to see any ghosts. “I…I fell. I’m sorry.”

“Do we need to call an ambulance?”

I stood up and looked at the bathtub. The little girl was gone, but something told me that she wasn’t. I picked up the ring.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It won’t happen again.”

“Okay.” The landlord gestured for her son to leave. “Um…if you need anything, my son will be upstairs.”

“Actually, I do need something. I need a hammer and a nail. Now, if possible. Please.”

“Dave, can you get her a hammer and nail?”

“Yes, Mom.” Dave looked at me like I was crazy, but he did what he was asked.

“Here you go.” Dave returned in what seemed like a second later.

“Thank you.” I took the hammer and nail from him. “Good night.”

“Night.” The landlord gestured for her son to follow her, and they left the apartment but not without a few looks back.

I waited until I heard the apartment door close. I hurried into the bedroom, tearing open the black garbage bags and found the photograph and wire. I tied the diamond ring with the wire to the photograph and opened the closet door, turning the flashlight on my cell phone. I shined it against the back wall and nailed the photograph where I had found it.

“I’m sorry,” I cried. “Please, forgive me.”

“No.” The little girl stood behind me. “You brought me back from the dead when you took the ring.”

“I’m sorry!” I repeated, more afraid than I had ever been. “I put the ring back, though…Look!”

“Too late,” said the girl. “The only way to get rid of me now is for you to take my place in haunting this apartment.”