Dom Tenby pressed mute, his work papers spread over his lap and sofa like a white patchwork blanket. Something bad was happening over the corridor in apartment twenty-two.
This was the third night in a row his attempts to get some work done at home had been ruined by the couple who lived there. He wasn’t in the mood for them tonight, hadn’t been the previous two. But at least then the noise had stopped after a few minutes. Tonight, Tenby was convinced that one, if not both of them, had been seriously hurt.
Ever since he first saw them, not long after he’d moved into the apartment across the corridor with his girlfriend of the time, whose name he couldn’t bring himself to remember, he thought they made a strange pair. It was an opinion he couldn’t shake. They were both in their forties, Tenby estimated. She blonde and doll-like, probably attractive back in the day, but now layered too thickly with make-up that was slapped-on to cover-up the cruelty of years. As for him, the husband, partner, whatever his relationship to her was, his hair was blatantly twenty years younger than the rest of him, dyed an oily black and styled to cover up the brutal, shiny scalped truth that he was receding. They spent most of their weekdays at home, from what Tenby could gather, leaving together at just gone six most nights, not returning until late, usually after Tenby had called it a day.
But three nights ago, that all changed.
Tenby heard crockery smashing first. Didn’t think much of it. Everyone drops a bowl or plate now and again. But seven, eight in one night? The multiple smashes were followed by dull, inexplicable thuds. Then silence.
The second night, last night, the soundwaves of a fully fledged shouting match carried through the walls of the Byron Close apartment block, shuddering across the neat, white walled, real oak floored corridor. The shouting ended with her screaming where he could stick something (Tenby didn’t catch exactly what or where, but imagined it would be painful). He certainly heard the echo of the front door slamming, a sound that disturbed his train of thought to such an extent, he was forced to abandon his work for the night.
And then there was tonight, the crescendo. Apartment twenty-two played host to scrapes, thuds, yells, bangs and crashes, intercut with him shouting and her screaming, then her shouting and him screaming. Tenby couldn’t quite make out details, much to his annoyance, even after he’d pressed mute, lowered his breathing and leant toward the door.
As he listened, a yell sent Tenby’s heart racing. Was that her or him? He stood up, letting his work papers slide off him like slates off a roof in high wind. What was going on over there? He pictured one savagely attacking the other, inflicting merciless hits around the head with a laptop, an iron, a toaster, a trouser press (his neighbour looked like the kind of guy who’d have a trouser press).
Tenby’s remote slipped from his grasp as he contemplated the gravity of the situation - a serious assault happening across the corridor and he was sitting there, listening to it happen.
Pangs of nervousness infected a stomach that had been over-fed and under-nourished by too frequent eating of the wrong kind of food over a Christmas break that had been curtailed by a call from his boss demanding he go into the office the day after New Year’s Day.
He slipped on novelty crocodile slippers that had been a ‘surprise’ present from his parents and edged open his front door. He looked left down the corridor, hoping someone else would be peering out of their apartment or stepping out of the lift.
He was out of luck on both counts. His neighbours were either out or out for the count.
He glanced across to number twenty-two. His apartment door was definitely the nearest. Twenty-three was four, maybe five feet further down the corridor. Tenby reckoned that rendered him honour-bound to be the first to intervene. The no-show of his other neighbours suggested they agreed.
After cursing his choice of apartment and checking he had his keys, he crept toward twenty-two.
As he approached the door, the great slab of wood rattled in its frame, the sound of splintering ripping from inside the apartment.
Tenby rocked back on his heels. That noise had to be something sharp embedding itself in the other side of the door. Something like a…
Tenby battled the urge to run back inside his own apartment, double-lock the door, don his Plattan headphones and pretend he’d been asleep all evening.
His heart was racing, his conscience clouding. He had to find out what was going on before he found out about it on the local news.
Tenby clenched his fist and reached toward the door.
Before he had a chance to knock, the handle moved.
Tenby froze, unable to comprehend why he was still standing there and not running away.
As it slowly opened, a hand reached around the door. Tenby stifled a laugh when he saw blood trickling between its shuddering fingers. This had to be some kind of drunken party game. Come on you guys, the joke’s over. The hand was followed by a forearm with blood streaming up to the elbow and dripping onto the corridor floor.
Tenby would have yelled for help right there and then, had whoever the arm belonged to not tried to do exactly that, choking on a throat thick with blood and vomit.
As Tenby leaned to his left to get a better angle on the owner of the bloodied arm, the door flung open. Tenby’s neighbour stooped in the doorway, the handles of five ornate daggers protruding from his midriff. He didn’t know why, but Tenby quickly counted them all. The lion’s share of the blood that was leaking onto the floor was being generated by a gaping wound in the lower abdomen, from which Tenby assumed the victim had recently pulled a sixth blade.
As he reached out to help, Tenby was forced back by a flash of brilliant white light from within the apartment, accompanied by a soft ‘phut’, too weak to be a gunshot, more akin to a tame firework.
Tenby squinted, temporarily blinded by the dazzle.
He heard footsteps, charging toward him.
‘Who is it?’
Still blind, he stood helpless, expecting a knife or six to slice into him.
As he held his breath and waited for the inevitable, Tenby felt someone brush past him, a waft of cool, fragrant air.
‘Hello,’ he called out.
As he blinked his eyes out of their blindness, Tenby saw his multi-wounded neighbour cowering next to him, the daggers making him look like a macabre hairbrush.
‘Somebody help!’ Tenby shouted.