That summer had been temperate, but the last few weeks had been very hot. The kind of hot that made everything miserable. The only solace could be found in long cold showers or letting the condensation from a cold glass of tea leak down your forehead as you held it up to cool the overheating organ underneath. Electric fans hummed throughout the house trying to get the still air to move enough to cool the house down. The heat had even gotten to the town itself, as if the streets were holding their breath, waiting for something to relieve the hot stickiness coming from everyone and everything.
Tonight seemed worse than the last three combined, Maggie had gone to bed early merely to rid herself of the layers of clothing she needed to stay in the communal portions of the house. She had a habit of taking in a few pages before turning her attention upward to see if anyone was walking down the street or just look at the leaves fluttering in the oak right outside. Last year she had moved into this apartment building, the kind that was actually an old Victorian which had been laughably converted to several units which meant the tenants shared the living room and kitchen. Normally she would have stayed out and read in her favorite spot, the front room had a bay window which looked out on the nicely manicured lawn and street. There was a window seat that was just right for reading, with the light from the streetlamp pouring in and highlighting the dollhouse set next to the seat and directed out as if it too was looking through the window. Mr. Johnson, the owner, had pointed it out when she’d moved in and described how it was a perfect replica of the real house but Maggie hadn’t paid much attention.
After dinner she had sat on the window seat with her latest book in her lap for only a few moments before deciding that this just wasn’t going to work tonight. She could feel the weight of her clothes pressing down on her, smothering her gently with sweat and trapped heat. Her feet screamed as they had swollen in her shoes from the day working at the store, her stockings choked her legs and stifled any sensation of moving air that she would have felt from the GE fan cycling very close to where she sat. Her skirt felt five times heavier than it had when she put it on that morning. The straps holding her brazier around her dug in and itched from the sweat collected underneath and her blouse felt like it had practically soaked through.
With nothing more than a nod to a couple of her housemates she decided to head up to her room. The one thing each room had was it’s own bathroom, so once Maggie got up to her apartment she decided to take a cold shower to get some of that horrible feeling of sticky secretion off her skin. After locking her door she dropped her book onto her bed and quickly pulled her clothes off, tossing them into her wicker hamper at the bottom of her closet. The still air in her room left her bare skin feeling tacky which only fed her desire to get under a cold stream of water. She lingered a long while in the shower after having washed the sweat from her body. The water was only cool, the heatwave had even left the pipes angry. As she stepped over the edge of the tub she slipped just slightly but she caught herself on the lip of the footed bathtub, narrowly avoiding a fall. She dried and walked back into her bedroom where any other time she would have dressed in her bedclothes but as hot as it was tonight she decided to be slightly risque and skip them. Since she was on the second floor she just had to avoid standing right next to the window to not be seen by anyone. So she would spend the night nude and with the slightest hint of a grin she tossed her blanket aside and climbed onto the bed.
She had propped her fan on a small table near the window on the first day of the heatwave and the combination of air forced in from outside and her still slightly damp skin felt nearly as good as the cool shower. The sensation of moving air tickled at spots on her body that normally was only exposed for bathing sent chills up her spine and she reveled in her abnormal naughtiness. She picked up the book and flipped to where she had left off, trying not to let her arms rest directly on the skin of her ribs where she knew they would start to sweat and get sticky again. After a while she began drifting in and out of sleep. As hard as it had been to sleep the last few days not only did she not fight it, she welcomed it.
Maggie slept but she didn’t know for how long. When she woke it was dark, pitch black, even her side table lamp was out. She rolled over on her side and looked to her window but something was amiss. The light coming through the window didn’t seem right. With her brow furrowed in confusion she turned and dropped her feet to the floor. The feeling of her sheets on her unusually bare skin added to her unease. She leaned forward to look down through the window but couldn’t make out the usual view. Normally she could see the corner yard and the intersection in front of the house. Tonight she could only see shapes, but they didn’t seem like what they should. She stood up and stepped closer to the window, suddenly not worried if there may be someone outside who could see her disrobed, and the view did not improve. She shook her head, not understanding what could be happening. Several thoughts ran through her mind, everything from fog to some kind of attack on the town by foreigners, she couldn’t decide what best answered the questions her eyes were giving her. She backed away from the window as she decided to go investigate. With a hand on the edge of her bed she made her way around to the foot which was closest to the door to her bathroom. Cautiously she let go of her bed and stepped to the wall, making her way into the bathroom she flicked the light switch which had no reaction. The click was followed by still more darkness and the faint hint of a sinking feeling began to well in her stomach.
“It’s nothing. Just another power outage.” She told herself outloud, subconsciously trying to sooth herself with the sound of her own voice. She pulled the door slightly closed to access her robe which still hung on the hook on the back of the door. She pulled it on, the layer between her and the world also seemed to comfort her slightly. Then guiding herself around her room with a hand on either wall or furniture she made her way over to her dresser. She knelt down and pulled the bottom right drawer open and fumbled around to the back until she found the emergency candle and matches she kept for just such an occasion. Gingerly she sat on the edge of her bed and worked to light the candle, which took several match strikes before she finally got it.
The light bathed the room, and her heartrate dropped a few beats. She thought about how childish she was being about being afraid in the dark, this was her apartment and she was safe. That was her first thought, until she started looking a little closer around the room. Something still didn’t look right. Even in the candlelight she could tell something wasn’t right with her room. She stood up and let the candle lead her around as she moved back to the dresser then to the wallpaper and finally her steel fan sitting next to the window. Nothing was looking right, but she couldn’t put her finger on what was wrong. Maybe it had been the texture or the finish or slight variations in the color, but nothing looked like it had before she fell asleep.
She pressed her eyes closed hard and with her free hand she massaged the lids into her eyes. “Maybe it’s a migraine,” she said as she opened her eyes to the starry effect of blood coming back after pressure is put on the eyes. She looked around her room again and something still felt off. With a nod she decided that it must be a migraine, but her stomach could not handle that answer. There was something else going on here. She was starting to sweat again, now more from worry than from the heat, but she tied her robe tightly around herself and moved to the door to the rest of the house. With a deep breath she slowly and quietly turned the knob, she wasn’t sure if she was trying to be quiet out of courtesy or concern, but she knew she had to be quiet. She slowly pulled her door open letting the flickering candlelight escape into the hallway and onto the door of her neighbor across. She stepped out and just as quietly she pulled her door closed behind. Barefoot and wearing only her bathrobe, something she would never have done normally had she not been terrified, she stepped across the hallway. The tightly knit carpet felt like brillo under her soles and the wood of the door she approached looked different than it had any other time. The realization seemed to sink in. The knotting on the door was different, she hadn’t ever really looked directly at it, but it just looked different.
She shook this from her mind, the notion just seemed too odd. She turned and stepped down the stairs leading to the front room and the foyer and she noticed about halfway down that there was light coming in through the front windows. Her stomach knotted again. If the street lights were working then why wasn’t the house lights? She stepped off the last step and quickly moved into the kitchen, instinctively she clicked the lightswitch again with no result. The candlelight showed everything as it had been before she went to bed, the table still in the same place, even dishes set in the drying rack next to the sink. But she could not shake the feeling that this was not right. Quickly enough to have to shield the candle’s flame Maggie made her way past the stairs and into the front room, nothing was out of place but she wasn’t settling down. Her breath shallowed. Something was very wrong. Without thinking, she bounded up the steps, her robe nearly coming open with every step. She could feel herself really start to sweat now, her hands were clammy and she could feel her breasts sticking to her ribs as she moved up the steps.
“Mr. Johnson!” She shouted as she stopped at the door across from her own. She knocked loudly, “Mr. Johnson!” It was late, but she didn’t know how late. She hadn’t bothered to look at her clock before leaving her room, but at this point she didn’t care if she woke the whole house. She leaned forward and put an ear to Mr. Johnson’s door. She didn’t hear anything. She turned quickly enough to loosen the belt to her robe. She ran to the next door, “Jimmy?” She pounded hard enough to make her hand sore. The walls were thin enough that by now everyone in the house should be awake and sticking their heads out to see about the ruckus, and she heard nothing. The house was still, not even a cricket chirping in through the open windows.
Panic was starting to set in and she had had enough. Maggie turned and ran down the stairs, completely unconcerned about being demure she let her robe flap open as she made her way to the front door. She turned the lock and then the knob before yanking on the door, but it didn’t budge. She yanked again with the same result. “AHHHHHH!” She screamed as she rattled the knob back and forth trying to get the door open and failing. Finally she gave up and slumped over in front of the door to catch her breath. After a long moment packed to the rafters with silence she stood straight again and held the candle up to the door to look for nails or something holding her in. Maggie’s eyes slowly widened as she realized it wasn’t what she was seeing that was so mortifying, but what she wasn’t. There was no gap between the door and the wall, they were one piece. She shook her head, none of this made sense. She absently walked into the front room, to her favorite spot. She looked out the window and could see the street light, but the angle was different. She dropped her head down in defeat, completely horrified and confused by what she was seeing.
As she looked back up she noticed a faint glint in the dollhouse. She squinted slightly as she centered herself behind the open back of the dollhouse. She leaned down and looked through to the tiny front room where it looked like a woman was standing in front of an even tinier dollhouse. Maggie could see a red mark on the back of the woman in the dollhouse and suddenly everything made sense. With her mind calming into the realization she reached her hand up into the back of her hair with a faint sting in her scalp she pulled her hand back, only it was covered in blood.