Dec. 23, 2020

Episode 1: BAD NEIGHBOR/RE:FURBISH

Episode 1: BAD NEIGHBOR/RE:FURBISH

Conway archives two strange letters this week: one involves a bad neighbor, and the other relates a short story about a fad toy from the '90s.


Conway archives two strange letters this week: one involves a bad neighbor, and the other relates a short story about a fad toy from the '90s. 

TRANSCRIPT:

CONWAY: This is Conway, receiving clerk for the Dead Letter Office of ***** Ohio, processing the national dead mail backlog. We here at the DLO are no strangers to odd parcels and unusual letters, and these two here are certainly unusual. The following audio recording will serve as an internal memo strictly for archival purposes and should be considered confidential. Need I remind anyone: public release of this or any confidential material from the DLO is a felony. Some names and places have been censored for the protection of the public. 

Dead letter 11501, postmarked October 19, 2009, was flagged by a carrier and sent to the Dead Letter Office for verification and processing. The letter has been subsequently opened and read per the state’s revised code. The letter reads as follows:

WILLIAM, NARRATOR:

Dear Terry at ***** realty,

We’re a small college town, so there will be parties. I grew up here, I get it, I’ve lived it myself. Sometimes the people living above you are loud, and obnoxious. Not much to be done about that. But for the tenant above me, it seems that every night is a blowout. Most lights on our block go dim a few hours after sunset, of course other than the orange halos of the street lights and blue streams of tvs filtering through blinds. One night I’m watching reruns of Frasier or Jeopardy or whatever, the windows open to let the cool fall air in. But I can’t hear a damn thing over the commotion upstairs.

Pounding music seeps through the ceiling like a burst pipe. I’d almost rather have a water leak, because maybe you’d do something about it for once. I try earplugs, I try the pillow over the head, I try it all. Eventually sunlight starts to creep through the window. And when the sun does come up, the music just stops. And then I have to go to work exhausted and frustrated. 

One brisk evening, as splashes of red sunset coat our building, I slip a small note under his door. Something like “Please keep it down after 10 p.m. Some of us do work early!” Problem solved, I hope. But as the last rays of daylight fade and my grilled cheese is fully melted, the damn music starts again. Some kind of dance music, uncomfortably loud, constantly thrumming like a wicked heartbeat. 

That night, I’m looking up at the ceiling, just seething over this guy. It’s past 12, and the music still bleats, a single voice interwoven throughout. So I get up, march out to the hallway, and stomp up the narrow stairs. I knock heavily on his door in three quick successions. The door opens just a crack, as bright multicolored light and hammering drums buzz through the frame.

“Hey, my dude, what is the deal?” is all he has to say for himself. I’m squinting against the harsh lighting now as my eyes struggle to adjust. He looks like he’s in his late-thirties, a bit haggard. Wearing neon shutter shades and a few days of stubble.

“Did you get my note?” 

“What?” he leans in to hear me over the commotion.

I clear my throat and ask again, louder this time, about the note. I don’t want a fight, I just want to sleep.

“Note? No, my dude, there are no notes here,” he laughs to himself, but his voice is shaky. Eventually my eyes get used to the tacky backlight, and I can see a bit between the slats of his glasses. His eyes are huge, bloodshot, always moving. My gaze trails to the wrinkles creasing around the corners of his mouth and eyes. Scruffy, uneven hair held in place by a faded headband, slick with sweat and grease. The tip of a worn vape pen sticks out of the pocket of his baby blue polo shirt. And the man doesn’t blink. He doesn’t blink the entire conversation.

“Well, could you keep it down at night? At least weeknights? I have to work and--

“No can do, my dude. ‘Party all day to keep the darkness away,’ know what I mean? Keep it from clawing its way inside,” I can’t tell if he’s joking or sick, but his red, staring eyes keep darting behind me to the shadowed stairwell.

“Okay, well you can do whatever makes you happy during the day, that’s not the problem. It’s the nights that I take issue with.” I look past him and into his apartment, trying to make out any shapes in the room. I see a lot of lights, but no other people. If this was a party, it was a pretty bleak one.

“This ain’t just for me bruh, gotta keep rockin’ all night to keep the dark--” he starts, or something to that effect, as he wipes moisture from his upper lip and chin. It’s chilly in the building, but he’s still glistening with beads of prickling sweat. I tell him I don’t have time for this, and that if he doesn’t knock it off, I’m calling the landlord.

He says something about he's been here a while and no one's complained, but I turn as he trails off. I rub my temples, and go back downstairs to write you an email.

I usually work in the morning, but that day a co-worker had gotten sick and I needed to cover her class. I didn’t finish grading until well into the night and then stopped for dinner. So when I got home around 11:30, of course the one-man-party upstairs was still going strong. On my way in, I passed by our outdoor breaker box and an idea crossed my mind. It may not have been my proudest moment, but I was at my limit. I popped open the breaker cover and switched off the upstairs power. The light from his room disappeared, and the music finally, thankfully, ceased. All was quiet in our building, all dark.

I went inside and sat on the edge of my bed, relishing the silence and, admittedly, hoping to hear at least a grumble or complaint after what he'd put me through. I assumed he’d figure it out eventually and check the breaker. If he’s got that much lighting and music and who knows what else going all the time, it was bound to trip someday.

But instead I heard a wailing. A despairing, guttural sound coming from upstairs. I could only make out a few words between the shrieks, some terrified gibberings about the light going out and the dark going in, going to him. It dawned on me that there could be some kind of medical equipment in there, some life support or insulin in the fridge, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to be responsible for accidentally killing an aging frat bro by shutting it down.

I was slipping on my shoes when I heard a heavy thud from above, which seemed to end the raving, then a long, drawn out scratching along the floor, like the sound of dragging heavy furniture across hardwood.

I’ll admit that gave me pause. But I left my apartment and stepped warily up the narrow stairs, straining to hear more. There were marks across the concrete floor and up the wooden stairs below my feet--long slashes and scuffs leading from his room, down the stairwell, and toward the vacant apartment below. You may want to check out the floor in his room, too. This is no fault of my own, so you don’t take it out of my deposit.

His door was still partially open, and I could see a faint green glow from beyond the frame. I snuck closer, following the marks and peering in through the gap in the doorway. It was a complete mess. Hundreds of melted candles littered the room, dripping wax frozen in strands and pools on the tables, rugs, even right onto the twenty-or-so lighters and countless burned matches scattered around the floor.

Towers of cassette tapes and CDs leaned precariously in the corner, while boomboxes and speakers were nested in coiled extension cords and power strips snaking along the ground. Tall, thin halogen lamps were plugged in at nearly every outlet and aimed at the center of the room, casting eerie shadows along the floor. They were off, but I could still feel the heat radiating from the bulbs. It was hot, stifling, even on this chilly evening. Strings of unlit Christmas lights webbed across the walls in meandering patterns like reaching ivy. Old portable televisions faintly hissed with static from the empty bedroom.

I had started to regret flipping that breaker, but I needed to convince myself he was unharmed. So I inched my way farther in.

The stench of sweaty shirts overflowing from laundry baskets and the smell of overheated electronics filled the muggy room. Whoever this person was, he seemed desperate to avoid any silence, any ounce of darkness.

I trailed the gashes in the floor to the source of the green light: in the bathroom, a huge pile of bent old glow sticks--several hundred at least--filled the bathtub to the brim. Their glow had mostly run out, but a dim sick-green pall still clung to the basin from the few that remained active. The marks ended here, next to the tub. Or maybe they began here. Either way, the man was gone, the only trace of him left in the sty he lived in being a crumpled note by the tub. Finding no medical instruments or any evidence of injury, I left, closing his door on my way out. I was tired, confused, but overjoyed that it was finally quiet, so I went to bed. 

That was two days ago, and of course a new problem has arisen: something reeks in the building, probably some food the man left behind in his fridge that’s gone rancid. And there’s the occasional scratching sound downstairs. It is vacant down there, right? You told me on the phone when I moved in not to worry about the basement apartment since nobody lived there. Perhaps some raccoons took up residence. Regardless, they are also not my problem, and the noises downstairs are getting louder. I tried sending you another email about all this, but it bounced back, saying the address was invalid. I know the rent is cheap so I shouldn’t complain, but you really ought to update the email address you give to tenants. I’ve been advised that I should hold my rent in escrow until the odor problem is sorted. I do have some rights, you know. Squatters rights and all that.

Now I’m writing all this out by hand, along with the contents of the first email and the man’s note, while fruitlessly trying to ignore the scratching outside my door.

Yours,

William

CONWAY: Per the policies of the DLO, we have looked into the recipient’s address. The realty company was bought out around this time by the Greenwoods and shuttered its old office. We could find no current address for the sender, and the address it was sent from now appears vacant.

The Dead Letter Office has verified this letter, DL-11501, as undeliverable, and the letter, along with this note, will be safely archived in our vault.

****

CONWAY: Dead letter 08602, postmarked December 29th 1999, was flagged by a carrier and sent to the Dead Letters Office for verification and processing. The letter reads as follows:

NARRATOR: To Hasbr**

You have to take this toy back. K-Mart will not let us return it on account of it’s been opened and is “technically functional”. Our kids have been goin nuts for this Furby thing, seen it all over the commercials, and we waited in line for hours just to get one.

First thing when we got it home, the dog growls at it and hid under our bed. Then the thing would not stop talking, just jib-jabbering that fake furby words all night. Speaking of Furby, this thing don’t got fur, it’s got hair, and lots of it. The kids told me it learned some swears, bad ones, too, so I took the batteries out, you know to reset it, hoping it would resolve itself. I got some new double-As in it, but it just stood there blinking and moving its little beak nonstop with no talking at all. We set there for a minute, just to see what would happen. The kids asked me if I heard what it was saying, but I didn’t hear nothin other than the little parts inside whirring about.

I popped the batteries out and put the hairy thing in the closet, thinking that would settle it. But wouldn't you know it, next day my wife swore she found it on the windowsill, looking out the window at the poor dog. My youngest says it sneaks out sometimes, says it sways back and forth sings to him in that made-up language. Older one told me it sat on top of him in his sleep and wouldn’t let him move for hours. Said it stared him in the eye and whispered things only god should know. 

Well, sir, whether I believe all that or not my kids had certainly had enough so I took it to K-mart, they said they won’t take it back as long as it works and I don’t got the receipt. So here it is. I’m not fishing for a refund, not fishing for a lawsuit or nothing, I just want it gone. Send it to the dump, send it to the FBI--hell, send it straight to hell for all I care, I just want it to stop scarin’ my sons.

CONWAY: The letter was found stuffed in an old PO box years after its postmark, and was subsequently sent to the nearest of the three remaining Dead Letters Offices, which would be ours The accompanying package could not be found. Per the ORC, the Dead Letters Office has verified this mail, DL-08602, as unfit for delivery and the letter will be securely stored in our vault. 

For the Dead Letters Office of ***** Ohio, this is Conway, signing off.