Sunday 25 October 2009

UNINHABITED - by Diana Harrison

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Mark was an exemplar model for a house agent.

He set great store by providing a good service to both sellers and vendors and making a decent profit from both.

And it was with this in mind that Mark accepted a request to value an apartment in a recently erected building on the north side of the city.

Mark was surprised, it had been the last one to be sold in the building and, now it seemed it would be the first one to be resold.

He’d hesitated initially, an anxious knot in his gut, but he shrugged the feelings away. He could get someone else to go later but Mark picked up on the seller’s anxiety to move so he suggested immediately that he might have a buyer on his books, at the ‘right’ price.

From the seller’s reaction Mark knew that he could buy the property himself, put it in a fictitious name, and sell it on at a handsome profit.

He tried to keep the note of pure pleasure from his voice as he metaphorically rubbed his hands with glee.

Mark hadn’t been near the site of the apartment for years. His business was on the south side of the city. And that’s where his sales came from because he portrayed himself as ‘the man who had local knowledge’, although he knew every house, and its value, that came on the market.

The place he was travelling to was formerly an old factory site, next to the canal, in the centre of town which, before being designated as ‘brown field’ land, had become the haunt of drug pushers, alkies and general ‘down and outs’.

Then the horrific murder of a young girl in a derelict warehouse, her body left undiscovered from the winter to the spring, hidden under a pile of bricks. That is until kids playing football found her remains.

It caused an outcry from the public, and a call for the area to be cleaned up.

Twenty years later the landscape had changed completely and it had become an up-market address.

It was late in the day when he arrived. The seller would be out but had made arrangements for Mark to pick up the key from the Concierge.

He liked what he saw and to the few who knew him, his smile depicted greedy anticipation. A killing to be made here, he thought.

The apartment was on the ground floor, which, although not to Mark’s taste, he had a detached house in the suburbs, it would appeal to many.

Mark stopped at the unmanned reception and collected the key, which had been left in a small brown envelope with his name on, and he frowned at the lackadaisical security but then just shrugged his shoulders and made his way to the underground car park.

He locked his car and walked to the lift. He thought he heard soft footsteps behind him but shook the feelings of foreboding away. A cold, damp, nasty place he decided, and made a mental note not to bring any vendors down here until he’d sold the apartment to them.

The lights in the corridor flickered and Mark grumbled that he understood why the seller wanted to move. The service was dreadful. He’d ‘kick butt’ if he bought the place he muttered to the shadows.

He wasn’t superstitious, he turned the key in the door of number thirteen with hardly a second thought, but as he went inside he started to feel uneasy.

His breath came in short bursts as he felt for the light switch then laughed with relief as light flooded the room deciding it was the time of year when the night creeps up, then overwhelms, as it plunges day into night.

Mark walked into the main living room and deposited his briefcase on the coffee table. The apartment was definitely minimalist he thought as he snapped the metal clasps open and extracted pencil, paper and laser measure from inside the case.

Had he not spoken to the seller, Mark would’ve thought the apartment was empty. Not a sign of a living being was apparent. Either the seller used the place like a hotel or had an excellent cleaner. It was probably owned by a professional person, who worked in the city, and went home at weekends, Mark decided.

In every room he had to switch on the lights, which was odd, because contrary to his earlier belief, the papery winter sun was still shining outside.

‘Ideal summer aspect’ he noted on the paper, rather than, as he suspected, an unpleasant north east situation whatever the season.

And it was cold. The same as it had been in the underground car park and the corridor.

Mark checked the central heating boiler. It purred softly. Then he looked at the thermostat. It was set at twenty one degrees Celsius. Perfect.

He fastened the buttons of his double breasted, blue pinstripe tailor made suit and continued to measure the rooms.

The laser measure shot red points, like splatters of blood, across the cream carpeted room and Mark trembled and cursed as he dropped the knife, no, the laser measure, on the floor.

Mark’s earlier, sick-in-the-stomach feeling had returned and he decided the sooner he got out of here, the better. His throat dry, he got a glass from the stainless steel kitchen and turned on the tap. He dropped the glass as a viscous glop of blood dripped from it. Then as he watched the liquid cleared and fresh water washed the red stains away.

He knew he was being foolish. Even new buildings occasionally suffered the odd discolouration in water pipes. But he decided not to have a drink.

He finished looking at the two bedrooms, sitting room, and kitchen and decided that it wasn’t such a bad place when he noticed another door off the hall. It was a laundry room, study or maybe storage. Whatever, he murmured to himself, he’d have to open it.

Mark found himself looking down at a set of stone stairs.

Odd, he thought, as he turned to go.

Then he hesitated.

He’d never seen a basement in an apartment.

Mark couldn’t see further than a few steps down because, like the rest of the apartment, it was dark. He moved downwards to feel along the bare brick wall for a switch. As he let go of the door it slammed behind him. His body prickled with fear but he told himself not to be a ‘drama queen’. The phrase made him think of his teenage daughter’s tantrums. She wanted to grow up too quickly.

He tried to hum and whistle as his fingers got covered with cobwebs and tiny creatures skittered over his hands, but he could do neither. He suffered from shortness of breath; an affliction bought on by the good life of too much food, whisky and cigarettes.

Then his feet touched level solid ground and he breathed a sigh of relief. He stood still trying to get used to the half light which was coming from a small high window at the opposite end of the room.

A feeling of relief flooded through him. It was only an empty room. He almost laughed out loud. He was ‘a big girl’s blouse’. That’s what his father called him if he ever showed any emotion.

Mark climbed back up the stairs to open the door.

It wouldn’t budge.

He cursed these new, badly built apartments fashioned with unseasoned cheap wood. It would have been better to have converted the old factory rather than knock it down. A building made to last.

But it hadn’t lasted because people wanted to wipe out the memories.

As that thought trickled into the pathways of Mark’s mind perspiration trickled over his body.

Mark knew he shouldn’t have come here. He shouldn’t have let greed override caution and skew the sense of preservation that had helped to keep the demons away for twenty years.

He banged his fists and kicked his feet on the door until the futility of his actions registered on him.

He sat on the top step and cried with frustration until he felt embarrassed at his actions and felt in his pocket for a handkerchief. There, to his relief, was his mobile phone. Immediately he felt so relieved. If only mobile phones had been around all those years ago. He’d have phoned for help. He’d never have left her to die, although the little tart, with her mini skirt, asked for all she got. He didn’t mean cut her, just frighten her a bit, although she’d struggled and he’d panicked. The newspapers at the time said she’d slowly bled to death.

He didn’t know she was only thirteen did he?

Mark used the speed dial on his phone to contact the office.

There was no signal.

As he cursed he missed his footing on the steps and fell, the phone torn from his hand, and heard the sickening sound of smashed bone as he hit the floor.

A moment, a minute, an hour later, Mark opened his eyes, unsure of where he was, and with a nasty metallic taste in his mouth. He slowly, painfully, pushed himself to sitting position, and looked around. Then he remembered falling down the stairs.

The door and steps had disappeared and he looked around and realised that he was in an old warehouse; like the one he’d taken the girl to, twenty years ago.

He’d been drunk and had a row with his girlfriend. He walked home alone and met this girl. She’d wanted it. Why else was she out alone in this area? She’d resisted and he’d called her a tease.

Then Mark’s broken legs throbbed as he again recalled the reports in the newspaper about the runaway. A teenager who’d had a row with her dad.

Mark rubbed his head to push the memories away. And he decided he’d taken a bump to the head to imagine that he was back in that awful place. He was down the basement of the apartment and he only had to pull himself back up the stairs and wait by the door for the seller to come back.

He crawled across the floor and then relief flooded through him and his laughter rang out manically as he discovered a change in floor level.

He’d found the stairs again.

But as he tried to move to standing position, the bricks gave way and they tumbled over him.

So Mark, in the darkness, waited like the girl, broken, bruised, bleeding and covered in bricks, for someone to find him.

A few months later the apartment was sold by another house agent who remarked that he’d never found a place so bright, warm and peaceful.

After taking early retirement Diana has devoted time to writing, forming 'Worcester Wordsmiths' with some friends, and has had short stories published in The Lady and My Weekly, plus 3rd place in a Writers Mag' comp' & twice being short listed. Best achievement: a Western to be published by Robert Hale, July 2010.


  1. Welcome, Diana.
    Well written piece with a good comeuppance.

  2. Nice debut Diana. You chose an excellent site to showcase your work. Regards, David.

  3. Oh, very good. Home is where the heart is.

  4. Hi Diana and welcome. Congratulations on placing your western with Robert Hale.

  5. thanks for the comments - much appreciated