Amanda Leigh

The September Featured Writer is Amanda Leigh

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by Amanda Leigh
Prodrome: any symptom that signals the impending onset of a disease.    

December 3, 2017 11:07 pm

One might say it was just my imagination playing tricks on me, because I was a man sometimes prone to emotional extremes. Maybe it was, but I swear I saw the old man’s decrepit frame inching towards me from across the street. The street lamps illuminated his silver hair and darkened his sunken cheeks. I knew it was the old man living below me, because he’s the only person I know whose cheeks leave steep valleys in the sides of his face like old Swiss cheese.

I know he saw me too when he turned his cane in my direction ever so slightly, so the knob of the silver wolf handle reflected stars of lamplight across my face.

Much unlike the old men that need boy scouts to help them get across the street, he was gone in the bat of an eyelash all the way back to his musky apartment right below mine.

What a creep.

“Hurry up, Scout,” I muttered to my dachshund that was far too enthusiastic about sniffing grass instead of doing his business. I had been outside for so long, I could feel drops of dew forming on tips of my eyelashes, all in anticipation for my dog's one measly bowel movement. I gave up after 10 fruitless minutes. No turd was worth that much of my time.

When I got back to apartment 208-C, my roommate, Riley, was on the couch sandwiched between two average looking women. The trio’s eyes were so focused on the white lines of cocaine on the coffee table that it took them a few moments to acknowledge me.

“Sage!” Riley exclaimed, “Which one do you want for the night?” He gestured to the two piss-drunk women next to him.

Both women were bland, without a hint of makeup on either of them. They stared into space with their tired, lackluster eyes. Neither seemed to care about the fact that they were being auctioned off.

The brunette on the left had stringy hair that appeared to have not been washed in days. She kept putting her finger in her mouth to pull out her gum and twist it in circles. The redhead on the right was the more doable of the two. Aside from the fact that she was the color of a sheet of paper, she had perky breasts that were begging to escape from her spaghetti strap top.

“Neither,” I said.

Riley’s face fell as if I just told him some very bad news. I walked off to my room, but he trailed at my feet. I felt like I was walking two dogs instead of one. He pulled me aside to face him before I could make it to my door.

“What’s wrong with you, man? I thought you were always down for a good time,” he looked hurt.

“Not tonight,” I replied curtly.

He was right, too. My reputation in Epsilon Psi was about as dirty as a public toilet seat, and I never turned down a good fuck. For some inexplicable reason, I just wasn’t feeling it that night.

I changed direction. “I think I’ve got the flu.” A blatant lie, but Riley was far too out of his mind to notice. He backed away from me.

“Dude, you should have told me before you shared some of that Four Loko with me earlier!”

“Sorry…I just felt it coming when I was outside. Maybe I just need a good night’s sleep.”

“I hope so,” Riley left it at that. I was glad he did. I really didn’t know why I was feeling so down in the dumps, and I didn’t feel like analyzing myself. Maybe all I needed was a good night’s sleep after all.

December 4, 2017 3:57 am

There was that song again:

Just remember the more life gives,
the more it must take away.
Even on the brightest of days,
nothing good will ever stay.

I knew that song. I had heard my dad whistling it in the shower for years. At first, I thought maybe I had slipped through a wormhole in my sleep, back to a happier time when my dad was still warm and alive. I pictured him holding me in his calloused hands. I pictured those same hands placed gently on his heart where the mortician thought they looked most presentable for the open casket.

I was jolted out of my sleep, but the singing didn’t stop. It was real, but it wasn’t my dad singing this time. The voice singing now was much more fragile, as if a windpipe might break with every uttered syllable.

As I listened closer, I discovered that the voice was coming from below me in the apartment downstairs. I’d never once heard the old man speak, and I certainly had never heard him sing. I would have much preferred not to hear the latter at all. Listening to him screech his way through my once favorite tune was flat-out painful. I thought it would be safe to assume that the singing would slowly fade out after the old man had given up on struggling to get the words out. Or better yet, perhaps he’d keel over due to cardiac arrest. Someone of his age was due for the death call at any moment.

By the fourth stanza, I’d had enough of hearing the old man fight with his crumbling vocal chords. I went into my closet and picked out an old umbrella; One of those umbrellas that’s inconvenient and doesn’t shrink down to a compact size. I figured it would make the loudest noise as I banged it against the floor. I gave the carpet several hard taps, sufficient enough to be heard from the apartment below. To my dismay, the old man’s singing did not falter. In fact, it almost sounded like his voice got just the tiniest bit louder.

I banged the umbrella again, harder this time. I got similar results. Finally, I resorted to slamming my fists.

“I’m trying to sleep!” I bellowed.

With immaculate timing, as always, Riley opened the door to my room. He got a good view of my ass in the air and my ear pressed firmly against the floor.

“What are you doing? I thought you weren’t feeling well.” He said.

“I am…I’m just sick of the old cretin that lives downstairs making so much noise while I’m trying to sleep!”

“He is pretty damn creepy. I haven’t seen him come out of his apartment once.”

“Well I have, briefly. Trust me, you’re not missing out on much.” I shuddered even thinking about it.

“Try to get some sleep and try not to wake up the girls,” Riley whispered the last part. As if suddenly resorting to whispering after my screaming fit would keep the two sluts from waking up.

I made sure to do an obvious eye roll before he left the room.

December 4, 2017 10:35 am

Professor Myrtle glared through his large spectacles at the class. He didn’t look pleased.

“I am not happy about these quizzes.” Out of habit, Professor Myrtle simultaneously bobbed his head as he spoke, giving him a striking resemblance to a scared turtle peeping out of its shell, “I would like to take the time to inform you all that I will not be curving these grades. You’ve earned your failure.”

“Looks like Myrtle the Turtle woke up on the wrong side of the shell this morning,” my fraternity brother, Clyde, whispered to me.

I found it difficult to suppress my laughter.

Myrtle’s spectacles worked much better than I had anticipated, “Is something funny, Mr. McKinney?”

“No sir,” I stiffened.

“You’re right. There isn’t anything funny. There’s especially nothing funny about your grade. I’d like to speak with you after class.”

I could feel my face gaining color by the second. A group of girls giggled behind me. I wanted to turn around and slap them on their foundation-caked faces, but I didn’t feel like getting my hand dirty.

After class, I begrudgingly made my way over to Professor Myrtle’s desk.

“You wanted to speak with me, sir?” I tried to sound as innocent as possible.

“Ah, McKinney, yes,” he leaned back in his chair, “I apologize about my outburst earlier. I really wasn’t aiming to call you out. I wanted to speak with you because I am genuinely concerned about your performance.”

I simply cocked my head in response.

“In all seriousness, you scored the lowest in the class,” Myrtle handed my paper over to me. It was a 33%. “Now, things like this happen and I typically pay no mind to them. Usually it happens to students who don’t attend class or just plain don’t care, and frankly, there’s nothing I can do about that. You, you’re different. In the beginning of the semester you were scoring 90’s every time. You remember that, don’t you?”

I nodded. Of course, I remembered.

“So, what’s changed?” He was starting to sound less like a professor and more like a psychotherapist.

“I don’t know. I haven’t been feeling well. I think I’ve got the flu.”

Professor Myrtle stiffened at my proclamation, “I’m disappointed in you. You were one of my best students. Your fall from grace is disheartening.”

What did he expect me to say to that?

When Myrtle swiveled his chair to face away from me, I knew that there was nothing more to be said. The conversation was over. I grabbed my whopping 33% off his desk and shoved it in my backpack. I didn’t want him looking at my grade anymore. I was ashamed.

December 7, 2017 2:32 am

Just remember the more life gives,
the more it must take away.
Even on the brightest of days,
nothing good will ever stay.

That was the fourth night in a row of that damned song. Numerous attempts of silencing the old bastard below me had failed.

I wrung my hands and walked around my room frantically.

What can I do? What can I do to make him shut up?

Suddenly, my mind flashed back to a prank my fraternity played on one of the pledges two years earlier. The pledge’s name was Jimmy Canter. He was completely socially awkward, but he was a third generation Epsilon Psi, so the brotherhood was obligated to accept his bid. Seeing no other convenient use for him, we used him for our entertainment. My favorite prank we played on him happened during a trip to the beach on spring break. Due to a shortage of beds, we made Jimmy sleep on the couch downstairs. At nighttime, because Jimmy was segregated from the rest of the group, we figured it was prime time to play some practical jokes. Between our need for laughs and our binge on Kraken, we came up with a stupid idea. Nonetheless, it was still funny.

Our room in the shack had a cheap Oriental rug. We soon found out it was there to cover the slightly rotten wood underneath. It wasn’t so bad that it needed to be replaced, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.

While Jimmy was still out at the bar, and after much struggling with a power drill we found out back in the shed, we were able to puncture a hole through the wood big enough to fit a small rock through. We waited for Jimmy to come home and pass out on the couch to put our plan into motion.

Every time Jimmy started to fall asleep, we’d toss a rock down below and watch it plunk onto his head. With each rock, Jimmy would writhe around trying to figure out what had fallen from above him. When he looked up to see if the rock had fallen from the ceiling, we covered up the hole we made with the hideous Oriental rug. Needless to say, Jimmy didn’t get a very good night’s sleep, but the rest of us had a blast.

We even had a point system: 5 points for hitting the nose, 5 points for the forehead, and 10 points if we got an eye. Whoever got the most points got free drinks at the bar for an entire night. I always won the game of torture thanks to years of playing baseball.

I decided if the old coot downstairs didn’t want to listen to me, I was going to make his fragile, bald head pay for it. Plus, I already owed my apartment complex about $1,000 worth of carpet damage anyway from so many spilled drinks, I figured it wouldn’t really matter what other damage I caused.

I fumbled around the floor a bit with my hands, trying to figure out a good spot to start digging. When I was satisfied, I took out my power drill from my tool kit. I would start with the carpet and work my way through.

December 7, 2017 3:52 am

It wasn’t singing that woke Riley up from his slumber. It was the distinct sound of my power drill that woke him.

“God damn it,” Riley muttered as he stumbled over a can of Sprite, a clear sign that spring cleaning would have to come early for him that year.

My door was never locked. Riley never knocked when going into my room. I now know that he would wish he had knocked first. He wasn’t prepared for the sight of me when he opened the door. I was sitting on the floor with my legs crossed pretzel style. I sat calmly on the blood-stained floor, paying no mind to him at first.

It took Riley a few moments to process the situation. I knew I looked a mess. Several of my nails were missing from my fingers. The tips of my fingers were chaffed almost completely flat because of my frantic digging.

I held a piece of carpet in one of my mangled hands. In the other hand, I held my power drill in a tight grip, as if I was an enthusiastic surgeon getting ready for the operation of my life. Riley looked mortified when I looked up to acknowledge him. I could not understand why. I was only doing what any rational person would do.

“What are you doing?” Riley gasped.

“I just want him to stop singing,” I stated calmly, as if Riley should have already known the answer to such an idiotic question.

Riley didn’t have to ask whom I was referring to. Although he’d never seen or heard of the old man downstairs, he’d heard many horror stories from me.

“Look, Dude, I’m going to call an ambulance before you pass out.” Riley tossed me a t-shirt that was on the floor. “Put this over your fingers until I get help, okay?”

As Riley dialed 911, he tried to remain calm, but I could see the panic in his face.

December 7, 2017 4:06 pm

In the psychiatric ward of Holy Cross hospital, I could hear Riley and our apartment manager having a heated conversation outside my room. They tried to talk in urgent whispers, but I listened closely to their every word.

“So, how much do you think it will cost to fix it?” Riley asked the apartment complex manager as they both recalled the butchered floor in my room.

“I’ll have to take that up with maintenance before I give you my final estimate, but can I ask you one question?”  There was a hint of apprehension in the manager’s voice.

“Of course.”

“What on earth possessed that boy to do such a thing?”

Riley sighed, “He says the guy that lives below us is being too loud and he can’t sleep.”

“You mean in apartment 108-C? I’m afraid that isn’t possible.”

“What do you mean?”

“Apartment 108-C is a staged, model home apartment. We show it to people when they’re interested in renting with us, but nobody actually lives in it.”

December 8, 2017 3:17 am

I slept soundly in the hospital the next night. The bandages the nurses had put on my hands felt snug and comfortable. I dreamed of wonderful things: my father and I teaching the family dog how to play fetch, my father and I at the shooting range for the first time, my father and I whistling tunes together. That’s when I heard it again for the first time since I’d left the apartment:

Just remember the more life gives,
the more it must take away.
Even on the brightest of days,
nothing good will ever stay.

The apartment manager had to have been wrong. There was a strange old man living in the apartment below and following me around. Perhaps he was a hobo squatting in the empty apartment below, but he was there somehow, I knew it.

The doctors told me it wasn’t true; they told me it was something called schizophrenia. They were wrong.

The old man was living below me, and somehow, he had found his way into the hospital room right below mine. I glared at the tile floor underneath my feet. It would be difficult to get through the smooth, shiny floors, but I could manage it with the right tools. I set myself on the floor and started digging.

Amanda Leigh is a recent UNCC grad with a BA in English. She is currently a preschool teacher with 18 amazing students!

She has been published in journals such as Askew, Cultured Vultures, Better Than Starbucks, and Tipton. She is working on publishing her first novel.