Arriving in a new town and not knowing anybody feels great at first, but then gets lonely. I had arrived in a city full of retirees in the coast of Florida and had nowhere to stay. I was in my early twenties at the time and was there for an internship.
I was staying at a Motel 6 next to a Waffle House while I looked for a place, and while searching craigslist, I found a condo by the beach, very close to where I was going to be working.
I didn’t know much about the place, but it looked nice in the photos and the owners rented it out to me AirBnB style, but before the app existed. I transferred the money via PayPal and I got a key code so that I could access the place. I never met the owners.
It was a nice, one-bedroom condo that was recently remodeled.
There were a few weird things about the place. For example, there would be a loud tapping at almost all hours of the day coming from the bathroom. In the bathroom, there was a large box, with a lock on it. I had 4 keys in my keychain, and tested every single one, but could never open it.
I figured it was just some owner’s storage area, and I shouldn’t be going through other people’s stuff, so I just let it be.
But that tapping sound bothered me, it sounded like roaches or rats in there. The tapping would stop when I got nearby, so I kind of knew that it was some type of live insect or animal crawling under the floors that would detect when I got close. I wasn’t sure if it came from inside the box.
The next door neighbor told me that that the house was owned by an older couple who had a daughter that suffered from drug addiction, but didn’t want to tell me more. I was surprised at the amount of details that the neighbor knew, but she refused to tell me the whole story. I think she wanted me to keep asking, but I let it go.
Nights were weird in the place. I would have nightmares almost once a week, and they were of vivid scenarios where I would step out into the beach, then begin gasping for air as everything turned dark. I would be drowning in my dreams.
I blamed the nightmares on my messed up sleep schedule, since I had to be ready to go to work at 4:45am. I had no car and I was forced to carpool with two other engineers from work at that time. But it wasn’t the sleep schedule. It was the apartment.
One afternoon, as I was sitting in the living room eating a sandwich, the house became silent. The tapping stopped finally. I was genuinely surprised. Then I thought I heard my toilet flush in the bathroom. Someone was in the house.
I went to the bathroom and opened the door, but there was nobody there.
Then I heard someone knock on the kitchen window, and I went straight to the kitchen without hesitation. It wasn’t the first time someone knocked on that window and it really got me angry. I always went to it to see who was there, but I never found anybody. It was a clear knocking, so no, it wasn’t some tree branch tapping against the window or some animal scratching at the door. It was knocking. Knuckle-against-the-glass knocking.
This time, I saw a young woman wearing dark jeans and a white shirt that was way too big for her, running away toward the washing machines that were in a little building outside.
I opened up the door, and ran toward her. I had so many questions. Why would she come by to bother me like that? Who was she? I got to the washing machines but she was no longer there. When I turned around, I saw her go running straight for my kitchen door, turn the doorknob and get inside. My lights were all on, so I saw her run straight toward the living room and into my bedroom from the outside. I ran right behind her, not knowing exactly what I was going to do once I got inside. I should have called the police.
I heard shuffling inside, and then sounds of beating on something, like with a hammer. As I stepped toward the bathroom, I saw her head bent toward the box as she was beating it with plunger, trying to break open the lock. She didn’t even seem to notice I was there. Growing concerned, I grabbed my cell phone from the kitchen table, went outside toward the front door, and called 911. The police officers showed up in what seemed like five minutes, and the girl, who now looked to be in her thirties, with an older-looking face, was now sitting next to the box with the plunger in her hand when we all walked in. I guess she looked younger from behind since she was abnormally small and thin.
She calmly told the police officers that she would get out of there, that this was her parent’s house. Wait. This was the daughter? They asked her to leave, and she kept saying that she needed to get into the box. The police asked me if I could open it and I gave them the keys the landlord gave me telling them that I didn’t have the key to that box.
They tried out all of the keys and none fit the lock. That’s when the woman started having some type of panic attack and started yelling at everybody, but she didn’t resist when they escorted her outside. All of the neighbors had come out to see the commotion, some I had never seen before.
Apparently she was on drugs that night. They asked me if I wanted to press charges and I said no, that she probably didn’t even know what she was doing and she didn’t really cause any damage.
I was sitting in the living room with the door still open, the cops had just left, and I was trying to piece things together, when I heard the neighbor say “knock knock” and I asked her to come in. We started talking and later she asked me what had happened, and if I was okay. I said I was just confused.
She looked down to the floor for a while and then looked me in the eyes. She said that she wanted to tell me the story of what happened, and for me to be respectful of the whole situation.
In May of that year, around two months before I got there, the owner’s daughter went out to the bar on the corner of the main street and my street to get high one night, and walked straight back to the condo I was renting. Exterior cameras caught her taking her baby daughter’s stroller toward the beach, which was one block away, but the cameras didn’t show the stroller, nor the baby, come back to the complex.
The next day, she reported a kidnapping, and the case went on file, missing child alerts were everywhere and she moved out to live with her boyfriend. Apparently someone had stolen the baby from her as they went for a walk. The neighbor started to cry, and I was sitting there trying to process the whole story. She wanted me to understand the woman’s pain of losing a child, and said she was glad that I didn’t press charges. That her drug addiction got the best of her.
I tried to keep up with the conversation, but my mind was elsewhere. I ate some of the cookies that she brought over, but couldn’t really taste them. It was almost 11pm and I would have to be up in around five hours, but I wasn’t tired.
Rebecca, the neighbor, left. I went to take a shower, lost in my own thoughts. I climbed into bed and stared at my ceiling fan. Then the tapping started again.
I dozed off a couple of times, woken up by the nightmares of not being able to breathe, feeling the cold dark water all around me. Gasping for air, I felt the saltwater sting inside my lungs. I coughed the water out, only for them to be filled up by more burning water. My legs went numb. Then my arms.
It was 3:30am. It always seemed to be 3:30am when I woke up. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. I fell asleep again.
The dark water. A baby crying. Splashing. Crying. A stroller sinking into the sand. I woke up shaking. It was 4:00am now. The tapping still coming from the box in the bathroom.
I stood up to turn on the light, but the tapping got louder and I went toward the half-opened bathroom door instead. It creaked as I opened it. The smell of death filled the room.
The moonlight from the window lit up most of the bathroom now, including the box. But the tapping wouldn’t stop, but now it became clear what the sound had been all along.
It was the lock.