After the gloomy living room they pressed on into the bedrooms and kitchen. Finding nothing they decided to search the rest of the accessible parts of the building. The stairs loomed like a dark tunnel into the lower regions but with the worst of the night still to come, it was essential to turn from nothing. Aunt Agatha stumbled at the top step, and even Seymour felt at least half the decision go out of his legs.
“Come on!” he said peremptorily, and his voice ran on and lost itself in the dark, empty spaces below.
“I’m coming,” she faltered, catching his arm with unnecessary violence.
They went a little unsteadily down the steps, a cold, damp air meeting them in the face, close and malodorous. The private cinema, into which the stairs led along a narrow passage, was large, with a lofty ceiling. The games room was less inviting still. Black beetles scurried over the floor, and once, when they knocked against a deal table standing in a corner, something about the size of a cat jumped down with a rush and fled, scampering across the stone floor into the darkness. Everywhere there was a sense of recent occupation, an impression of sadness and gloom.
Leaving the basement they took the lift to the top floor. When the elevator doors opened, Aunt Agatha uttered a piercing scream, which she instantly tried to stifle by placing her hand over her mouth. For a second Seymour stood stock-still, catching his breath. He felt as if his spine had suddenly become hollow and someone had filled it with particles of ice.
Facing them, and not looking like she was going to move to let them step out of the lift, stood the figure of a woman. She had dishevelled hair and wildly staring eyes, and her face was terrified and white as death.
She stood there motionless for the space of a single second. Then the lights flickered and she was gone, gone, utterly gone and the lift door framed nothing but an empty corridor.
“A trick of the light,” Seymour said quickly, in a voice that sounded like someone else’s and was only half under control. “Come on, aunt. There’s nothing there.”
He dragged her forward. With a clattering of feet and a great appearance of boldness they went on, but over his body the skin moved as if crawling ants covered it, and he knew by the weight on his arm that he was supplying the force of locomotion for two. The penthouse floor was cold, bare, and empty; it felt more like a prison than luxury housing. They went round it, tried the doors to the flats, but found them all fastened securely. Seymour’s aunt moved beside him like a person in a dream. Her eyes were tightly shut, and she seemed merely to follow the pressure of his arm. Her courage filled him with amazement. At the same time he noticed that a certain odd change had come over her face, a change which somehow evaded his power of analysis.
“There’s nothing here, aunty,” he repeated aloud quickly. “Let’s go down a floor and explore more of the building.”
They explored each floor and found nothing but locked doors to empty flats. As they descended the flight of steps to the first floor they both simultaneously stopped to listen, looking into each other’s eyes with a new apprehension. From the apartment they had left thirty minutes before came the sound of doors quietly closing. It was beyond all question; they heard the booming noise that accompanies the shutting of heavy doors, followed by the sharp catching of the latch.
“We must go and look,” said Seymour briefly, in a low tone.
Somehow she managed to drag after him, her feet catching in her dress, her face livid.
As they approached flat thirteen it was plain that the door they’d left open half a hour before had been slammed shut. Without hesitation Seymour used the keys to open it. He almost expected to see someone facing him in the apartment; but only darkness and cold air met him. They went through its rooms, finding nothing unusual. They tried in every way to make the front door close by itself, but it wouldn’t. The door would not move without strong pressure. All was silent as the grave. Undeniably the rooms were utterly empty, and the flat utterly still.
“It’s beginning,” whispered a voice at his elbow, which he hardly recognised as his aunt’s.
He nodded acquiescence, taking out his watch to note the time. It was fifteen minutes before midnight; he made a note of exactly what had occurred in his iPhone.
Aunt Agatha always declared that at this moment she was not actually watching him, but had turned her head to where she fancied she heard something moving; but, at any rate, both positively agreed that there came a sound of rushing feet, heavy and very swift and the next instant the lights were out!
But to Seymour himself had come more than this, and he has always thanked his lucky stars that it came to him alone and not to his aunt too. For, as he rose from a stooping position bent over his iPhone, and before it was thrown across the room, a face thrust itself forward so close to his own that he could almost have touched it with his lips. It was a face wracked with passion; a man’s face, dark, with thick features, and angry, savage eyes. It belonged to a common man, and it was evil in its ordinary normal expression, no doubt, but as he saw it, alive with intense, aggressive emotion, it was a malignant and terrible human countenance.
There was no movement of the air; nothing but the sound of rushing feet, stockinged or muffled feet; the apparition of the face; and the almost simultaneous clattering of the iPhone on the floor.
In spite of himself, Seymour uttered a little cry, nearly losing his balance as his aunt clung to him with her whole weight in one moment of real, uncontrollable terror. She made no sound, but simply seized him bodily. Fortunately, however, she had seen nothing, but had only heard the rushing feet, for her control returned almost at once, and he was able to disentangle himself and flick the lights on.
The iPhone was nowhere to be seen. It seemed it had been stolen. How his companion so quickly overcame her terror, Seymour never properly understood; but his admiration for her self-control increased tenfold, and at the same time served to feed his own dying flame for which he was undeniably grateful. Equally inexplicable to him was the evidence of physical force they had just witnessed. He at once suppressed the memory of stories he had heard of “physical mediums” and their dangerous phenomena; for if these were true, and either his aunt or himself was unwittingly a physical medium, it meant that they were simply aiding to focus the forces of a haunted apartment block already charged to the brim. It was like walking with unprotected lamps among uncovered stores of gun-powder.
So, with as little reflection as possible, they simply excited the flat and went up to the next floor. The arm in his trembled, it is true, and his own tread was often uncertain, but they went on with thoroughness, and after a search revealing nothing they climbed the next flight of stairs.
It was nearly midnight when they returned to apartment thirteen, and arranged to make themselves comfortable for the remainder of their adventure. The flat was absolutely bare.
In spite of the chilliness of the night there was something in the air of flat thirteen’s living room that cried for an open window. But there was more than this. Seymour could only describe it by saying that he felt less master of himself here than in any other part of the building. There was something that acted directly on the nerves, tiring the resolution, enfeebling the will. He was conscious of this result before he had been in the room five minutes, and it was in the short time they stayed there that he suffered the wholesale depletion of his vital forces, which was, for himself, the chief horror of the whole experience.
They spread a rug on the floor and sat down to wait, with their backs against the wall. They left every door open and Seymour’s position commanded a good view of the main staircase leading down into the darkness, and also the lift; a heavy stick lay beside him within easy reach.
The full moon was now high above The Denizen. Through the open window they could see the comforting stars like friendly eyes watching in the sky. One by one the clocks of the City struck midnight, and when the sounds died away the deep silence of a windless night fell again over everything. Only the roar of car engines, far away and lugubrious, filled the air with hollow murmurs.
Inside Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development the silence became awful; awful, he thought, because any minute now it might be broken by sounds portending terror. The strain of waiting told more and more severely on the nerves; they talked in whispers when they talked at all, for their voices aloud sounded queer and unnatural. A chilliness, not altogether due to the night air, invaded the room, and made them cold. The influences against them, whatever these might be, were slowly robbing them of self-confidence, and the power of decisive action; their forces were on the wane, and the possibility of real fear took on a new and terrible meaning. He began to tremble for the elderly woman by his side, whose pluck could hardly save her beyond a certain extent.
He heard the blood singing in his veins. It sometimes seemed so loud that he fancied it prevented his hearing properly certain other sounds that were beginning very faintly to make themselves audible in the depths of the building. Every time he fastened his attention on these sounds, they instantly ceased. They certainly came no nearer. Yet he could not rid himself of the idea that movement was going on somewhere deep within the building. But, somehow or other, they did not seem to come from the reception or lower down in the private cinema either. Surely they were not from outside The Denizen?
Then, suddenly, the truth flashed into his mind, and for the space of a minute he felt as if his blood had stopped flowing and turned to ice.
The sounds were not downstairs at all; they were upstairs, upstairs, somewhere on that horrid penthouse floor.
And the moment he discovered where the sounds were, he began to hear them more clearly. It was the sound of feet, moving stealthily along the passages overhead, in and out among the empty apartments.
He turned quickly to steal a glance at the motionless figure seated beside him, to note whether she had shared his discovery. The light threw her strongly-marked face into vivid relief against the white of the wall. But it was something else that made him catch his breath and stare again. An extraordinary something had come into her face and seemed to spread over her features like a mask; it smoothed out the deep lines and drew the skin everywhere a little tighter so that the wrinkles disappeared; it brought into the face with the sole exception of the old eyes an appearance of youth and almost of childhood.
He stared in speechless amazement, amazement that was dangerously near to horror. It was his aunt’s face indeed, but it was her face of forty years ago, the vacant innocent face of a girl. He had heard stories of that strange effect of terror which could wipe a human countenance clean of other emotions, obliterating all previous expressions; but he had never realised that it could be literally true, or could mean anything so simply horrible as what he now saw. For the dreadful signature of overmastering fear was written plainly in that utter vacancy of the girlish face beside him; and when, feeling his intense gaze, she turned to look at him, he instinctively closed his eyes tightly to shut out the sight.
Yet, when he turned a minute later, his feelings well in hand, he saw to his intense relief another expression; his aunt was smiling, and though the face was deathly white, the awful veil had lifted and the normal look was returning.
“Anything wrong?” was all he could think of to say at the moment. And the answer was eloquent, coming from such a woman.
“I feel cold and a little frightened,” she whispered.
He offered to close the window, but she seized hold of him and begged him not to leave her side even for an instant.
“It’s upstairs, I know,” she whispered, with an odd half laugh; “but I can’t possibly go up.”
But Seymour thought otherwise, knowing that in action lay their best hope of self-control.
He took his brandy flask and made her take a stiff enough swig to help anybody over anything. She swallowed it with a little shiver. His only idea now was to get out of the house before her collapse became inevitable; but this could not safely be done by turning tail and running from the enemy. Inaction was no longer possible; every minute he was growing less master of himself, and desperate, aggressive measures were imperative without further delay. Moreover, the action must be taken towards the enemy, not away from it; the climax, if necessary and unavoidable, would have to be faced boldly. He could do it now; but in ten minutes he might not have the force left to act for himself, much less for both!
Upstairs, the sounds were meanwhile becoming louder and closer, accompanied by occasional evil laugh. Someone was moving stealthily about, stumbling now and then awkwardly against furniture.
Waiting a few moments to allow the tremendous dose of spirits to produce its effect, and knowing this would last but a short time under the circumstances, Seymour then quietly got on his feet, saying in a determined voice: “Now, Aunt Agatha, we’ll go upstairs and find out what all this noise is about. You must come too. It’s what we agreed.”
He picked up his stick. A limp form rose shakily beside him breathing hard, and he heard a voice say very faintly something about being “ready to come.” The woman’s courage amazed him; it was so much greater than his own; and, as they advanced, some subtle force exhaled from this trembling, white-faced old woman at his side that was the true source of his inspiration. It held something really great that shamed him and gave him the support without which he would have proved far less equal to the occasion.
They took the lift. It rose floor by floor and second by second the sounds grew louder and nearer. As the lift reached the penthouse, there came a terrific crash from the corridor. It was instantly followed by a shrill, agonised scream that was a cry of terror and a cry for help melted into one.
As they stepped out of the lift, someone came rushing along the passage, blundering horribly, racing madly, at full speed, three steps at a time, toward the very elevator in which they stood. The steps were light and uncertain; but close behind them sounded the heavier tread of another person, and the building seemed to shake.
Seymour and his companion just had time to flatten themselves against the wall when the jumble of flying steps was upon them, and two persons, with the slightest possible interval between them, dashed into the lift at full speed. It was a perfect whirlwind of sound breaking in upon the midnight silence of the empty building.
The two runners, pursuer and pursued, had passed clean through them where they stood, and into the lift.. Yet they had seen absolutely nothing, not a hand, or arm, or face, or even a shred of flying clothing.
There came a second’s pause. The lift doors closed. There was a sound of scuffling, gasping, and smothered screaming; and then out of the elevator came the step of a single person treading heavily.
A dead silence followed for the space of half a minute, and then was heard a rushing sound through the air. It was followed by a dull, crashing thud in the depths below on the stone floor of the reception.
Utter silence reigned after. Nothing moved. Palsied with terror, Aunt Agatha, without waiting for her companion, began fumbling her way downstairs; she was crying gently to herself, and when Seymour put his arm round her and half carried her he felt that she was trembling like a leaf. When they reached the first floor, he went into apartment thirteen and picked up their rug , and, arm in arm, walking very slowly, without speaking a word or looking once behind them, they marched down the stairs to the reception.
In the entrance they saw nothing, but the whole way out of the building they were conscious that someone was following them; step by step; when they went faster IT was left behind, and when they went more slowly IT caught them up. But never once did they look behind to see; and even went they were out in the night air in Golden Lane they lowered their eyes for fear of the following horror they might see if they turned to look.
With trembling hands Seymour guided his aunt back to her one bedroom flat in Great Arthur House.