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A Quantum Problem

We sat around in a circle, the nine of us – me, my brother, my two sisters, the elderly man named David from the apartment next to ours, the Morrisons – the couple who live in the apartment directly above mine – and their twelve-year-old, and the man from the occult group. It was awfully dark outside – the twilight had given away to a velvet blue speckled only by a few sparse white dotty stars. Below the horizon, the lights of the city looked quite bright now.

“So we are here.” said the man from the occult group. He had taken a role of authority in our group. “This is a very normal-seeming house, I do not see why all of you are so terrified of it. Its just one more apartment in a city block. There are honking cars outside, there are lights in the hallway, there are so many residences everywhere around it. I don’t feel anything paranormal here!”

He appeared a little annoyed. He had made a long journey from Denver, and we really had little to show at the moment. For all the urgency we had put into the written petition that we had sent to him – and all the assurances we had entered into the letter that there would be something supernatural here – there was disappointingly little to investigate in that dingy little apartment on the fourth floor of a multistory apartment building on a big Manhattan street. It was quiet, musty and dark. There was a dim light emanating from the bulb up on the ceiling, and a stink of damp, possibly moldy wood filled the abandoned living room.

“Hang on, Joe, give the thing some time. It normally starts about now, but it seems to have gone silent for some reason.” David – the elderly gentleman who lives next to me – said in a reassuring tone.

“Of course, these things rarely manifest when an outsider is around. I am familiar with another ghost from Kentucky which caused a ruckus in the cupboard, but it would go absolutely silent whenever there were guest!” Joe the occult man said.

“For real?” the Morrison kid asked, his face an expression of credulous wonder. None of the adults in the room were the slightest bit convinced by this, of course. People who have ties with the occult tend to tell these tales, but most of them are taller than the mostly mundane incidents in which they are grounded.

John, my brother, lives in a small apartment in New Jersey. He had come over four days ago, after hearing me rambling in deranged horror on the phone. He had come to help me, calmly convinced that I was merely hallucinating, possibly due to stress. It had taken him one evening in this house to understand that I was not deranged, and another to start rambling in deranged horror himself.

My sisters Carrie and Lucy – who had lovingly brought pies and cakes all the way from their homes in Los Angeles and Indianapolis (yes, we live very far apart) – were also soon caught up in the terrors that cohabited with us in this accursed building.

Our building is a small, four-story affair on a busy street in Manhattan. I will desist from handing you any further information, please do not mind this recourse to privacy. I had begun residing here two weeks ago, after my company transferred me to their head office in the city. It was a big break in my career, a well-deserved reward after all the years spent churning hard profits in the company offices in freezing Dakota. I had arrived here with a great deal of optimism, but things were not going to be nice for me.

Ever since the very beginning, things were odd here – the neighbors kept to themselves, the people were quiet and furtive, and there were odd noises from the top floor at very odd hours. I had a cozy apartment on the third floor, opposite David – an older man who had a kind smile every once in a while, but otherwise maintained a furtive gaze full of warning – and below the Morrisons. I would return home from work tired and drained, and I would be met with the tremendous noise of furniture being moved about. I tolerated this for the first three days, but there is something about the scathing noise of heavy wood moving over concrete that becomes unbearable to me really quickly. I decided to visit the people in the apartment above me.

That was when I met the Morissons. They were a charming family with lovely smiles, soothing words and quiet, furtive glances. The first thing I noticed about them was how their floors were all carpeted. There was no way they had been the ones moving heavy furniture around. All their living-room furniture had some sort of glass decoration piece on them, except for the TV mantle, which had the TV. Moving these about would need them to empty the cupboards, the contents, and so on.

They offered me tea, which I accepted. We had some small talk about the apartment and the environment of the city – they stole little meaningful looks at one another as I discussed my experiences as a newcomer to the apartment – and then Mr. Morrison, in a very meaningful manner, looked me in the eye and asked me – “So, Matt, what brings you here to our apartment?”

“Well, I just wanted to ask – you know, I was hearing a lot of furniture moving in this apartment, I think-”

I couldn’t have finished the sentence when Mr. Morrison’s face blanched, his eyes widened, and his expression became one of intense alarm. I turned to find his wife shaking her head rapidly, her movement arrested mid-walk as she returned from the kitchen carrying a mug of warm milk.

I knew I had hit a bull’s eye.

“I thought that must be your place, so I came up here to ask if you could-”

“Don’t!” Mrs. Morrison hissed, cutting me off.

“I’m sorry?” I asked, but the environment was too hushed and alarmed for my pretense to last. I decided to cut to the chase.

“Look, I know there is a secret here. Everyone knows it, nobody wants to say anything. I am not going to snitch on anybody. I keep getting these looks, like I am an outsider, not trusted, and I don’t like it. So can you guys please cut the bullshit and spill?”

I had kept my voice relatively calm, but there had been a mounting annoyance in it that they could not have simply ignored. The growing sense of dread and alarm had finally blossomed into full-fledged panic.

Tears flowed freely down the eyes of Mrs. Morrison, as she looked increasingly frail and desperate. Mr. Morrison stared right at me, a look of warning so violent in his eyes that they were blazing. He gave me a clear signal – do not continue this conversation.

But I had had enough of the sound of furniture moving to-and-fro over the place. I needed to determine at least some answers. I looked him right in the eye, and said – “You will tell me tonight, or I will have to take legal action. I hope you can pay for a lawyer.”

I got up, about to leave, when I reached the door, I heard a welp – something like a muffled spasm, a mere squeak at best – come from behind me. Looking back, I noticed that Mrs. Morrison was weeping. She stood there, some of the milk having splashed on to the floor near her feet, and she was shaking all over. I suddenly felt really bad for her, and I really wanted to walk over and put an arm around her, to console her, and to apologize to her, to help her find a place to sit and sit down. But her husband was faster.

“Show Matt the door, honey.” he said, his voice curt and firm, but hiding underneath its surface a suppressed thunderous wrath  that made each word reverberate. His eyes glared at me like he had marked me as a lifelong enemy. I stared back challengingly into his eyes as I stood at the doorway, one hand on the knob.

It was in this position – Mr. Morrison sitting on the sofa staring daggers at me, my hand on the doorknob but my eyes on his, Mrs. Morrison slowly moving to a position just next to me so she could usher me out – unceremoniously, in all likelihood – when I turned the knob and opened the door. As soon as I did, I heard a sharp, hissing gasp next to me from Mrs. Morrison. At her gasp, her husband started from his position, and was instantly standing. An immediate and sharp transformation had come upon him – his rage had entirely disappeared, and was replaced by fear.

“What is it, Nora?” he asked with urgency in his voice.

I turned to see Mrs. Morrison staring in open-mouthed, wide-eyed horror at the door to the apartment opposite her own. Her fear was so contagious – partly because of the way she was gripping my shirt at the shoulder (when had she clutched my shirt?) that I just had to follow her gaze.

The door to the apartment just opposite the Morrisons was open. It was simply ajar, revealing the darkness beyond it. It was pitch dark inside. In hindsight, that was odd – the big living room windows are directly opposite the

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