Night Duty

This is a true story. It was a windy night. The tropical storm was heading westward and what we were experiencing according to the weather report was the tail-end onslaught of the typhoon. It was supposed to be over soon, but it seemed like it was just getting started. There were just light rains thankfully, which meant lesser floods in most areas but the strong winds compensated for the lack of it. We were sleeping soundly in our condominium studio apartment my wife and I had just recently moved into when the storm got worse. Everything was going according to plan, it felt brand-new, starting a life together as a couple. It was quite a high finally landing on our own feet. You could say that we are still new to this sort of life even though we have been together for several years. I admit, however, that we were too eager about making it work. Sometimes it feels a little bit too soon. Either way, it had to be done at one point or another anyway. Nothing was going to stop us, we wanted nothing more.

The building construction was still on-going though. And there were only a few of us who were occupying the new structure. There were about eighty to ninety families or owners for all forty-four floors, which includes the penthouse, two commercial floors, and the three car-parking floors.

It was about past midnight when a series of loud banging noises woke us. My wife, being a light sleeper, complained about it first and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep anymore. I couldn’t as well, I don’t think anybody could. Apparently, the source of the nuisance was caused by the strong winds banging the doors of the unoccupied units. It was the storm, there was no doubt about it. And the barrage came mostly from the upper floors. And there were a lot of them since most units were yet to be turned over to the owners or were still up for sale. Unlike the other condominiums you’d normally find around the metro, the developers hand the property over to the owners bare. Meaning, there are no furnishings, fixtures, nor tiles, no paint jobs whatsoever. Just an empty concrete box and a door with no lock.

We just moved in, a little over a month give or take. My wife and I had lived around the city our entire lives there was no reason why we should be bothered about such a petty disturbance. But that night in the condominium was different. The booming barrage of noises was far worse than any thunderstorms we’ve encountered. Imagine, heavy doors made of hardwood banging constantly from different floors of the building one after another. It felt like a giant percussion in a full-length set. We thought that we were going nuts, it was torture. We work during the day and for us, a good night’s sleep was imperative.  At first, we tried to shrug it off hoping that the winds would tire down soon but it didn’t.  What’s bizarre was, when I went to the door and checked, I was the only one who was out in the hallway. “How can these people sleep, aren’t they bothered?” probably they are all used to it, probably they get a discount on the association dues for the trouble, or perhaps they have a state of the art noise-canceling padding installed on their walls. Either way, I just couldn’t understand how they were able to stand the entire thing. But I realized that maybe we were the only ones who there on our floor that night, maybe our neighbors (which were few) were out.

So I went to work. I could not stand another second of it. One way or another, I wouldn’t allow it to ruin what we had set out to achieve – a home. A little peace and quiet are hard to come by these days. We could talk to the building manager and file a complaint, of course, but that would happen no sooner than the morning after. I wanted to fix the matter up right away by taking things into my own hands. Besides, I’m an impatient man. My wife and I share that character flaw. We’re not proud of it but we get things done because of it. There’s always a way to keep things moving faster, we believe. You can coin it however you like, but it’s a principle that we carry.

I started with the doors on our side of the wing and carried on to the other. I was angry. I wallowed about the incompetence of the building administrators. “How could they miss this?” Since there were no available doorknobs at the vacant units, I tore off a generous portion of the carton box that I found and used that as a shim to keep the doors fixed in place. I closed the windows in the vacant apartments. I threaded carefully since it was dark in most of them. There were only the lights from the neighboring buildings illuminating my path. I tried the security guard on the ground floor, but couldn’t find him for some reason. I didn’t want to waste any more of my time so I went back to our floor to finish the job.

I boarded up the air-conditioning provisions with scrap boards and fragments of concrete blocks I found lying around. I was able to shut all the doors in-place on our floor but regrettably, it didn’t dent the impact of the noise at all.  It was overwhelming, I didn’t think this through I told myself. It felt like I was on the verge of caving in. But something must be done; I desperately mustered all the anger in my chest and turned it into pure will. I must admit, there was regret looming every time I felt tired and ready to give up. But I was not going to quit. Floor by floor, I went up through the elevator, doing the same things I did on ours: Shimmed the doors, closed any open windows, and blocked any significant openings with anything I could find useful. I was getting tired; I didn’t have the time with me, but I think I spent nearly two hours on all those doors. When I was near the top floors, I felt like fainting, I wanted to stop.

Even though I didn’t want to rest, I sat down on the hallway floor as I waited for the elevator to fetch me. I was on 43rd.  I was catching my breath and my throat was dry. By the time I entered the lift and was set to push 44, I realized that the last floor was off-limits it being the penthouse. I was relieved, it meant that the technicality concluded my quest for the night, finally.  But I noticed that there was an extra button just above it. “Another floor? That can’t be right?” I was sure that there wasn’t a 45th floor but it was there in front of me glowing in its LED light. I still have the condominium brochure and the paperwork, and it only mentioned 44 floors and not 45. I kept on staring at the number to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. And that strange button was on top of the penthouse which was kind of absurd. At first, I hesitated to proceed any further, but since I was there already, I ought to finish the deed I set out to do in the first place. But more than that, there was that unscratchable itch to know more about that mystery floor. I don’t know, I was just drawn to it, like it was calling me, like a long-lost friend beckoning for a chat. And without thinking too much, I went for it finally. Before long, the elevator doors slid open. That thin chime that nudged me that I was there echoed across the room.

It was dark and there was total silence. I noticed that there wasn’t a hallway, there was no wind at all but it was colder than any of the other floors I’ve been to. It was just a huge spacious dark room that seemed shapeless. Like a deep void or some sort of a vacuum.

I didn’t step out. I mean, why would I? I decided that there wasn’t any door that needed closing anyway. My task is done, I convinced myself. Leave now before you regret staying. I was scared, to tell you the truth. I never felt this alone my whole life. I was brought up in the slums but I never felt this perilous. I couldn’t move and I felt frozen all of a sudden. Everything was still, I couldn’t remember if I’d breathed at all. For all I care, I was a cold corpse. And before I was able to push the close button, the elevator seemed to have telepathically understood my will, as if it had its own consciousness. Then that chime had rung again to announce my departure. I was saved! A small voice in my head had celebrated in silence. But then, when the doors were about to slide back to closing, it struggled. It was like the doors were dragging itself to do it. It was as if someone or something was forcing it not to. But it continued on, slow but it was moving.

It was the longest five seconds of my life. And when the doors were finally about to touch shut, I swear I saw something between that narrow gap. I’ll try to describe what I saw to the best of my ability but I assure you that this description is nothing compared to what I have actually seen. What I saw between that narrowing vertical was a face. There was a glimmer of light, a faint illumination that shimmered in the darkness. It didn’t hurt my eyes, in any way, allowing me to see clearly.  Behind the light emerged a face, the feeling that it left me that night stayed on. The face had a very dark complexion. Its skin had a dry, cracked texture. There were thick scabs, in a quite unusual formation. It looked like one layer was sitting on top of another and another. It was sort of a miniature canyon after a volcanic eruption. I thought that the face was smiling, well it appeared as if it was. I don’t think it had lips on its mouth, just the skin around it. I couldn’t say if it had a body though. Or hair. Or anything else. It was just there facing directly towards me, just a few paces away.

It was gone instantaneously, almost at the same moment I saw it.

Of course, my wife and I went to the admin office as soon as their office had opened. I gave a brief narrative of what happened and expressed our frustrations about the experience.  My wife told me between the conversation as she whispered that I was calmer than she had expected me to be. I don’t know about that, I just felt exhausted after all. I didn’t share with anyone about the 45th floor, even to my wife. But I asked the official if there was a floor above the penthouse, but the building manager told me that there was none.

That very same day, we were informed that none of the occupants heard about the loud banging noises. Even the security guards who were doing the rounds that night didn’t hear anything at all. “But that was just impossible, that couldn’t be right.” My wife told the manager and his assistant at our door. “We wanted to get to the root of it, we even went asking around but even the other unit owners didn’t seem to have heard the noises. But we’ll check all the doors from now on just to be sure.” We thought it was weird. We were willing to bet that the noises we heard that night reached up to two blocks away.

It’s been four months now since the night of the incident.  And true enough, as the building manager had promised, we didn’t experience any of it anymore. It’s been months since I’ve written anything as well. Not to make any excuses, but I haven’t been in my element since the night of the incident. What’s troubling me was that the 45th button wasn’t there anymore but there is a dent on the control panel that hinted that a provision for a button was once available. I don’t know, it could be my imagination. I decided to let it go, but as of late, I couldn’t find my sleep for some reason. The wife returned to her routine which was more important. I am writing tonight to journal that night’s strange experience. There’s a storm heading our area. The biggest in years they said. I decided to trace my footsteps as I did that night, hoping to put a stop to all of this madness. I’ll be going floor to floor, simulating as I did then to get to that ominous floor. I’ll write a log soon about any further developments.