The Old Woman (Short Story)
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
It didn’t happen a lot at first. I just saw her once in a while. But, she gave me a weird feeling. She never spoke to me. Only starred. Maybe it was her silence or her lazy eye that got me. I don’t know. The uneasy feeling got worse every time I saw her, though.
The first day, I saw her twice. Once in the building hallway, and once while I was smoking a cigarette outside. I said ‘hi’ both times and received nothing but an odd look on both occasions. When I had been outside, she just looked at me until I spoke and then closed the door. I puffed my cigarette a couple more times, hoping the feeling would pass. When it didn’t, I crushed the butt under my shoe and headed in the same way she had come.
I don’t know what I was thinking would happen, but I wasn’t expecting someone of her age to move so quickly. I couldn’t have been outside more than two or three minutes, but she was nowhere to be seen when I went in.
I tried to push it from my mind, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I hadn’t heard a door open or close after she left, and the doors weren’t light. They were solid metal fire doors that always made some kind of noise that echoed through the bare hallways. You could always tell, even at the end of the hall, in your apartment, when someone came or went.
The next day, it was almost the same. I saw her a couple times and she said nothing in passing. I stopped trying to speak to her after the first day, so I can’t tell you whether or not she was even able to speak. I would assume so, considering I’d seen her from a distance in groups with others and it looked as though they were talking. But, I wouldn’t know from personal experience.
By day three, things had begun to get weird. I didn’t just see her by the door anymore. I started seeing her closer to the door to my floor. It creeped me out.
On day four, she was in my hallway. Mine! I wanted so bad to continue down the hall and act a though I didn’t even live where I did, but my daughter was in my apartment. She was safely in her playpen, watching cartoons. The only sound coming through the door was the television. I would have been worried, as my daughter is a talker, but I had started locking the door even if I was just checking the mail.
So, I looked at this strange woman as I entered my apartment. Gave her ‘the eye’ if you catch my drift. It was a non-verbal challenge.
I unlocked the door to my apartment and looked back up, assuming she would be gone. I was wrong. She was closer, smiling, her hand in pocket. I opened the door just a crack praying my daughter wouldn’t see or hear me and would stay quiet. I wanted to keep her a secret.
The woman, hand still in pocket, put her other hand on the door. I held the knob firmly in my hand, preventing her from opening it further.
“Can I help you?” I asked sternly.
She didn’t answer, but instead pulled her hand out of her pocket slowly. I wasn’t sure what she was doing, but I wasn’t as afraid as I should have been.
It wasn’t a weapon, but it was threatening nonetheless.
It was a key. It looked exactly like my own. Not just in the sense that they went to apartment in the same building, but it looked like a copy of my own key. She pressed it into my hand and limped away.
I knew in that moment that she was hiding something more sinister than anything I could have come up with on my own. Inspecting the keys, one lined up with the other, I realized this key was, in fact, a copy of my own. Flipping them over to prove my point to myself I realized the one in my right hand said nothing, whereas the one in my left, the one she handed me, said “do not copy”.
My key, the one I had been using for days, was the copy. I wasn’t sure how, but she must have been in my apartment because I had never lost my keys even once during the time I had lived there. At least, not outside the apartment.
I checked the door and noticed a sticky residue on the latch. Things started to piece themselves together. The time I thought my toddler must have gotten a hold of my keys and they’d been gone until I found them on the floor in the kitchen the next day. That morning, when I was leaving for an appointment, I still had an odd feeling about having found the keys in such an obvious place.
When I’d come home, I was ready to make lunch for myself and the baby. When I looked in the fridge, everything looked normal except that the chicken I pulled down the night before to make for dinner wasn’t there. I checked the freezer, and sure enough it was there. Still completely thawed out. I figured I must have put it there this morning while getting breakfast and not remembered it. It wouldn’t be the first time I had done something off before my coffee. What got me was that it hadn’t refrozen during the hour and a half I was gone.
I considered telling my family what was happening, that this strange woman had handed me an original key to my apartment. That there was tape residue on the hatch. That things had been moved.
I knew they wouldn’t believe me, though. I knew what they would think. We had been through things like this before. It would just end up with me being sent to the hospital for yet another psych eval.
So, I kept quiet. I didn’t say a word to anyone that night. And I didn’t leave my apartment at all the next day. When I smoked, I did so in the bathroom with the ceiling vent on and with the shower running. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid to go outside, I just didn’t want to dress and undress the baby in her winter gear and take her out into the rain just for a cigarette.
By the next morning, I did realize I had to leave, though. We needed groceries and I had already set up a ride to do so the previous week.
As I was getting ready to leave, my sister called via video chat from her car outside. She was early, but I was almost ready, and she wanted to stop for breakfast before we started our shopping. I finished zipping up the baby and threw my own coat on, grabbed the diaper bag.
As I opened the door, I noticed it was unlocked.
“That’s… weird,” I said.
“What is?” My sister asked.
“The door is unlocked, but I swear I locked it last night,” I told her.
“You’ve been busy lately with your classes and stuff. Maybe you just forgot,” she reasoned.
“Maybe you’re right,” I responded, knowing in the back of my mind that something was off. I had definitely locked the door before going to bed last night. Term paper or not, I wasn’t so tired that I would forget to lock the door. Especially with everything that was going on.
When I opened the door, though, the woman was there. She smiled at me. But, she stepped out of the way. Had she been listening at the door? Was she waiting for me to leave? How did she even know I would be leaving? And how did she know what time?
She had something behind her back.
I picked up my daughter and I took off, knowing this woman was capable of more than just limping along.
I had dropped my phone. My sister was still on video chat.
I got to the car, safely outside in front of other people.
I didn’t make it fa before my sister got out of her car and ran to me. She took my daughter from my arms and yelled at me to get in the car. We didn’t even buckle the baby in. I jut sat in the back, holding on to her for dear life.
I never went back to that apartment. I never even got my things out of it. And, I never found out what the woman said to my sister.
She wouldn’t talk about it, even on the day she died over forty-five years later, long after the old woman had passed away herself.