Look carefully. Closer. Come on don’t you see it? The window to the bottom left. Yes there. See her face? Doesn’t she look like she is trying to get your attention? Oh My god Sam, how can you be so daft?
The words rang in my head as I walked down the hall. It was a simple assignment for the photography class. Now one of the pictures I took, who knows where, shows what appears to be a woman in distress. I feel a twinge of guilt and a since of foreboding, a need to find and help her if I can. Walking along the path I took before I feel different, no longer struck by the architecture or beauty. I am trying to pinpoint the place of potential darkness, a house of horror, a den of iniquity.
Cutting around the corner of 7th street I start to take it all in, that carefree morning with me whipping my camera around. The coffee shop, that decadent aroma of the pastries wafting out the doorway. The chirping of birds and cooing of pigeons, lifting the camera I try to remember where I aimlessly wandered next. There down that alleyway, the one with the twisted stop sign. The smell of urine and trash, the almost tangible feel of human desperation. A crash and I lower my camera, the stray scurries off in a hurry hissing and spitting for me disturbing its hiding place. Suddenly I feel aware of everything around.
There, that is the next turn, behind that fence, down that row between the crumbling houses. Yes, the couple flowers that once stood proud in defiance of the concrete, now they are trampled from foot traffic. The store on the corner with fruit stand sitting empty out front, the closed sign and a chain on the door. That feeling of wishing I could get inside and explore the urban ruin. See what there was to discover. Out of habit I peer in through the first window. I wonder what stories and secrets this building could tell. Turning left I continue, orange barrels on the road, caution tape dangles in the breeze around the piles of rubble. The old homes knocked down in the name of progress, gentrification is creeping in like slithering tendrils, the face of the neighborhood being carved into something different.
The ditch I crossed walking on the makeshift bridge of pipes and plywood. The small fish playing in the pool below, trapped in their own world, maybe for the best. They would be quickly devoured in the city park lake with all the bigger fish that wait for a morsel to snap up. There, yes that way, the brick stands out. A mix and match of bricks put together like some art deco attempt for the building’s esthetics, I am here. My heart is racing as I look at the building, looking for the window. I do not see it. Looking back at the picture I check again. Looking and studying I draw closer to where it should be. Still I do not see the opening where the desperate face appeared. I almost missed it; fresh mortar sun dried but still not tainted by the filth of the area is barely noticeable. The brick perfectly cut to hide the once window.
My mind racing as I walk around looking for an entrance. I feel a shudder of apprehension as the old door screeches like an old woman wailing. The flicker of light from a few open doors along the hall provides the only illumination. Bulbs long burned out dangle from the walls and ceiling like claws reaching out. A sound at the end of the hall, glowing eyes peering back. My flashlight not strong enough to reach through the darkness as I strain to make out what is focused on me. With camera in hand I decide this is the only way to know. A bright flash of light turns the darkness into daylight for a moment. My eyes try to recover as I look at the screen of my camera. A head on a table, the hair flowing over the side. A blank stare from the open eyes, the makeup is perfect. The skin pale as moonlight cast through a window. The table covered in cans and wrappers, bottles and trash litter the hall. I feel the need to run growing as the desire to explore pulls me further in.
Shhhh, the sound causes me to freeze. My ears ache listening for a sound, my eyes straining to see everything they can. Reaching the table my mind spinning from thoughts and ideas, scenarios play over in my head. Now I wonder if I will be found. Shhhh again. The door in front of me cracked open. My best guess is that it would be the place that housed the woman in the picture. My hand shaking as I push it open.
An explosion of dust and movement, heads, arms and other body parts cascade from the ceiling. Rational thinking has left the building as well as my mind. I trip over an arm, face first crashing on the floor. My head now swimming as the room spins and seems to fade. My thoughts drift between horror and desperation flowing into inky nothing.
I can’t move as fear has frozen every part of my being. A shuffling sound behind me, the sudden pain of a stun stick. The shadowy figure now looming over me, reaching down the smell of dirt and filth as it pulls me down the hall. Being tossed out of a side dock door I fall crashing to the ground. The figure looming overhead. I can see it now, a man. The old green jacket, tattered but still recognizable, the face haggard by time, one of the lost and forgotten.
“Get away from my home.” His voice aged but stern “Leave me and my girls alone you pervert. The are mine you hear? Next time I catch you snooping around here I won’t be so nice, now get!”
I staggered to my feet. Still trying to grasp what had happened. The old building’s sign gave me a clue to at least part of the question as it boasted home of the manikin factory. As for the old man, the woman in the window, this whole excursion seemed to bring me more questions than answers.