Something happened while I was on holiday. I know I was away because the statement—my statement—said so. What holiday, I couldn’t say; all I can remember is that the food was good and that it was the first time I heard the bell.
Now I hear it every morning, just before sleep ends. When I wake up, there’s never an explanation. I tore up my apartment looking for it a few times. Nothing.
Leanne couldn’t help. I once thought she could, so we talked about it after dinner. It was fun at first. Together we pondered the mystery, and I tried to describe the sound of the phantom chimes—the spectral clock tower. She got bored of my complaining after a few days. Never said so, but I knew because the discussion was very one-sided.
My doctor couldn’t help. Don’t remember why I went to see him, but after he treated me for minor burns, I told him about the chime. He said something about stress, and didn’t make half the effort Leanne did to pretend I was rational.
My therapist couldn’t help. I came in to find my missing days, but ended up only telling him about the bell. Don’t think he blames me for what happened in our first session—can’t remember the outburst—but I scare him too much to be a patient anymore.
God couldn’t help. I tried asking him to get this horror—this devil—out of me, but when I saw the church towers, I was too afraid of what I’d find inside to enter.
The dream each night is different, but the bell is the same. Must be massive. Ornate carvings around the rims, I’d wager. Black—like the soot each ring shakes away. Sometimes it’s muffled, buried underneath too much tablecloth, and maybe I like it that way.
The bell has a heart; I know because it bleeds—or maybe that is just the trickle of red I find on myself each morning.
Can’t tell anymore. Not sure it matters anyway; the bell’s all that’s left for me to be concerned with. Leanne’s gone. The doctor said my insurance wasn’t valid—makes sense; it came from my job at the factory. Bob fired me, said I hadn’t shown up in two weeks. My phone doesn’t work anymore. Maybe I didn’t pay the bill, maybe it’s broken, or maybe I never plug it in.
It still rings occasionally—even when it’s dead. Whoever’s calling is persistent. There’s a secret, maybe a recipe, they want to share.
I never pick up.
My new neighbors always whisper when I leave the apartment. Sometimes they help when I wander too far from it. I tell them how much trouble it was to open the door, and they say how much trouble it is to help me back.
Scary folks, my neighbors. Teeth always gritted in awful white smiles—whiter than the walls of the halls. Whiter than the buckled coat they always try to push off on me. I think they’re into odd fashion. I keep telling them I’m not cold. They always nod, with that look in their eyes. That same wary stare Leanne gave me; they saw me as if I’d grown horns and hooves.
Sometimes I catch a few of the neighbors’ words. Something about danger and others. One time, I heard them talk about Leanne through my heavy door—my ear was pressed into the cold metal. All I heard was her name.
I went to sleep that night wondering if they knew her. Did they see when she left? Did they know where she was? Did they know why TV dinners weren’t enough for her?
I almost caught the bell the next morning, snapping my eyes wide so that none of my room’s corners were hidden. For a moment, I saw a glimmer of silver, soot, and blood before it vanished out of my sight. Decided to keep forcing my eyes wide every morning; you can’t observe The Last Supper by only looking at a portrait of Judas—you need the whole picture. I’d find the bell and my answers. Eventually.
Only I never do. The nights and days keep flying by. I do nothing but sleep, wake, and hunt. The bell. My eyes hurt. Blood occasionally leaks from my stretched sockets—used my fingers—and it’s all for nothing.
The neighbors tell me they won’t be dropping off food anymore, something about giving me a chance to meet people. I guess that was alright; my apartment had a new built-in restaurant on the ground floor—not that I ever remembered it having stairs.
No one seems friendly. They all look at my face like something’s on it. When I check, I realize there is.
Blood. From my nose or eyes. Don’t care which. Even after it’s gone, and I slice into my dinner, the patrons still gawk.
The burnt meat reminds me of Leanne for some reason. I take another slice of overcooked steak. A neighbor asks the chef, in a whisper, who gave me the knife, but he’s too busy to respond; the smoke alarm is going off in the kitchen. The thing about smoke alarms is that they never have an off switch.