Across the Hallway by John Jones

He reached the top of the stairs and paused to regain his breath. He sometimes wished that the small block of six flats had a lift, but then walking up and down to his home was, other than sometimes walking up to six miles a day, his only form of exercise at 72. 

Switching on the hallway light, he made his way across to his flat door. The light barely illuminated the hallway but it was enough for him to see what he was doing as he inserted the key. Before he twisted it, he turned and looked across at the door to the flat opposite. Nobody lived there, and hadn't for six years. He'd never seen the tenants, but the landlord, who lived two miles away, said they had left without telling him, and nobody had seen anything of them since. Occasionally, it seemed to him that the flat actually was occupied, as he'd heard sounds coming from within. 

Sometimes he heard voices, but he usually dismissed it as his imagination, although that never always convinced him, as he also would sometimes hear a door closing, and footsteps. 

Now everything was silent. He opened his flat door and stepped in. He was about to close it when faint strains of music filtered across the hallway. It had to be coming from behind the door opposite. He walked across to the red painted door, and not for the first time, tried to push it open. He knew it would be locked, and it was. He assumed it was a radio, but turned on very low and placed in the furthest corner. He knocked quite loudly, but he would be surprised if he received a reply. He would hear something approximately every two or three days. It was mostly voices, but he could never quite hear what they were saying, like they knew he was listening. He stepped back across to his own door, and the music stopped. It had not faded, but stopped instantly. 

Silence descended like a heavy fog. He wondered if he had heard it at all, and then realised that to deny he had heard it, would be to deny he had ever heard it, and place a question over his very sanity. James Reynolds closed the door behind him. He couldn't put his mind at rest. How could he talk the landlord, who he barely sees into giving him the key, just because he believes there's somebody inside? He wondered just how he could get inside, and the answer came to him in an instant. It was obvious. Having just come from the local pub, he had been talking to his friend Michael Roberts who had spent 22 years in prison for armed robbery. Prior to that he had been an ordinary burglar, who had fell in with a group who could not, or would not earn money legitimately, and would instead steal it, forcefully if necessary. After he'd served his time, he'd left, aged 61 and promised he would never get involved in anything like that again. James wondered if his lock-picking skills were still in good order. He'd left him talking to the barman and hoped he would still be there. He left his flat, locking it behind him, and looked once at the other door. All was silent. He descended the stairs, heading for the place from where he'd previously came. 

After twenty minutes James and Mike were walking up the stairs to the hallway, Michael with a small metal box containing tools of his ex-trade. He didn't take long in setting to work, and all the time he tried to open the door, the flat remained silent. James opened his own door and hung up the coats, and watched as the other man worked his specialised levers and wires. 

After a while, there was a loud click, and Michael stood up, satisfied. 

"There you are, I've still got it". It was then they both heard a door slam, followed by conversation, followed by music, followed by laughter. It all mingled together, and the two men looked at each other as though expecting it to open. There was slight hesitation in James before he stepped forward and opened the door. The door swung back, creaking slightly. 

A dark, uninviting hallway was now louder with the sounds of many occupants. James said nothing, just turned and walked back into his own flat to fetch his torch. When he returned, Michael had disappeared, presumably into the other hallway. The sounds coming from there were very loud, yet there could be nobody in there making any noise, unless somebody was playing a cassette, which was unlikely. 

Flicking on the torch, he walked into the other hallway and panned it around. A door to the rear was open that led into the living room. No light was in there, the windows were boarded up. The room was empty, unfurnished. Michael was standing there, surrounded by the sound. "So where's it coming from?" asked James, picking out Michael with the torch. "It's obvious," he said, smiling. "It's coming from the walls. It seems that the sounds of the previous tenants have been recorded into the walls and are being played back". 

"The walls have ears,” said James. Mike nodded. 

“Yes, quite literally”. They both stood there for a while, listening, for that was all they could do for the moment. 

Published in Issue #18

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