Shout out to Stacy Lazar and the Benediksta flat! She lived there and will be able to picture this story better than most.
The thing to know about the flat that I was living in up until this morning is that it’s five stories tall and the central elevator shaft, around which the stairs wind, is wide open. This means that you can watch the counterweight and the compartment of the elevator as their moving. It also means that you look down from the 4th floor to the 2nd basement, six floors below.
Our flat housed five people on the 4th floor and above us on the 5th floor were two more student flats with two students apiece. The flats were nice enough, filled with IKEA furniture, and generally speaking all the students in the building hung out in our kitchen.
Last week, while everyone was cramming to complete a project there was an interesting incident. At first I thought my colleagues were watching a weird video in the kitchen. It sounded like a ghost moaning but when I came out of my room everyone else seemed just as confused as me.
At first we all just ignored it, went back to our work, and assumed it was some drunk in the courtyard. But somewhere, beyond the confines of our cozy little flat there was an ungodly wailing that didn’t die out, it just got wierder.
After about half an our of this weird noise Kate got home with munchies for the study group, she was panicked. “Don’t you hear that? I think someone’s hurt.”
“There’s someone in the basement and I think they’re hurt. We should help them. C’mon.”
She tossed down the bags and went back out of the apartment into the hall. Since the elevator shaft is completely open everyone was able to crowd out into the hall and peer down the shaft, hearing inhumane cries rising from the basement. And once the door was open the sound crystallized: it didn’t sound like someone was hurt so much as they’d gone completely insane on drugs.
We descended to the 3rd stairs were below us, silhouetted against the glass of the bottom-basement elevator door we could clearly see someone thrashing around and wailing. It was a wail that alternated between music, demented laughter, rage, and introspection. At no point was it coherent or human – though it was constant. This continuous howl set everyone’s hair on end and made people act in strange ways.
On the two flights of stairs spiraling below me I could see the heads of my classmates poking out into the elevator shaft, looking down. They were slowly descending the stairs, moving towards the awful howling coming from the basement instead of away from it.
El, the tiniest girl on our course, made brave by a can of pepper spray was leading the exploration party, non-lethal deterrent stuck awkwardly out in front of her and behind her were Jess and Kate. For some reason, it seemed only the men in the group had the inclination to let this dreadful racket mind it’s own business while the girls, caring (or dramatic) souls that they are, wanted to see if someone was hurt.
Mitch held a kitchen knife close to his leg, Claire was shivering and clutching herself. The only one who didn’t seem to know about this junked out maniac was Charlotte who was still studying on the fifth floor.
Once it became clear that the source of the sound was living, unwanted, and possibly dangerous the immediate reaction was to contact the police. Since there is a station right down the street no-one wanted to call: instead Elle and Garret people rushed out into the night, wearing their pajamas, and headed to the police station. It should be noted here that is technically illegal for a foreigner to roam the streets of Prague without their passport and it is well known amongst expats that if you can’t provide ID, the cops will put you in a cell for the night.
Neither of the two who went to who went to the station realized this but fortunately the Czeskies didn’t seem to concerned: letting them stand out in the cold ringing the buzzer for a five minutes before letting them in. By the time I got my passport, the police had buzzed a small group of American students into the station. Unfortunately, standing in a Czech police station saying “drugs” and gesturing for a cop to follow doesn’t elicit much help. Also, shouting “junkie” and slapping your arm isn’t much good either. I didn’t even pretend to help the situation: it was to ridiculous. I just stood in the corner and laughed as everyone mimed drug abuse for a Czech police officer and slowly realized that he wasn’t coming to do anything.
While were gone (taking three biggest of the four men) the other flatmates found the landlord and were succesfully able to communicate that there was a junky in the basement (yes: by saying “drugs”, slapping their arms, and pointing towards the howls). It was also around this time that they witnessed – from two flights up – the man fall into violent convulsions on the floor.
Luckily for him, the convulsions acted as a catalyst on his brain and everyone got back from the police station, the junkie had recovered and managed to accomplish the task he’d been working on for the last forty-five minutes: hitting the call button on the elevator. Suddenly, as I was making my way up the first flight of stairs, wondering what emergency number we had to call, the counter weight groaned into motion and began moving up past me – dropping the elevator box down into the basement. Chills ran up my spine when I realized that in a few moments, this guy could be anywhere in the building – and our door was still ajar.
“Guys, we need to get back into the apartment.” And I started running up the stairs. Everyone was behind me and as we sprinted up the stairs, I realized that we were still missing three – El, Jess and Kate – who presumably stayed behind to watch the action. About halfway up the steps the elevator stopped, and so did I, and I could hear the door open somewhere below me. Then the gears sprung into motion again and the counter weight passed me on the way down: bring the elevator and it’s awful howls up towards us.
Now I was chaperoning everyone back into the apartment. Just as I got to the fourth floor, so did the elevator and I burst through my apartment door and slammed it closed behind me. No sooner than I slipped into my flat (with most of my classmates in front of me) and closed the door, did the automatic light go out in the hallway: leaving an ominous black hall lit soley by the occupied elevator which rose to our floor and jerk to a halt.
Inside the apartment Garret was calling the police, Mitch was pacing with his knife, and Claire was trying to talk him down (“Iz self-defense, in’t love?”). Stefan, who lives upstairs and came late to the drama, was in our flat and I asked him if his door was closed upstairs.
“Yeah,” he responded.
“Are you sure?”
Relieved, I turned back to the spy-hole in the door and no sooner than I did I hear from behind me, “…but I don’t think Charlotte’s door is closed…”
BOOM! The elevator door swings open violently and after a moments pause, the source of the nightmare howls steps out. The force of his forward momentum is to much for his neck and his head rocks back on it until he’s staring at the ceiling. Then snap forward, and howl. He’s big, wearing loads of baggy clothes and a backpack. His head is covered by a thick mop of dreads and his body language says that he’s a zombie. A Frankenstein monster or, more accurately for you Danny Boyle fans, one of the infected from the film 28 Days Later.
He stood in the dark for a moment before identifying the only nearby source of light and stumble towards it. The light was on the 5th floor landing, where Charlotte’s door was open and she is working diligently on her Learner Profile. He growns and starts up the steps, I panick: not wanting to rush out there without cause (perhaps Stefan was wrong) – not wanting Charlotte to be ambushed by junkie.
The only thing I could think to do was see the thing play out so as soon as he rounded the corner, out of sight, I opened the door and followed him into the dark hallway: alerted to his location by the consistency of his awful noises. Charlotte, thankfully, heard him when he got of the elevator and, making the same assumption as the rest of her sex, assumed he was hurt and wanted to help. However, as soon as she got to the door and saw him, she slammed the door closed in his face.
I guess this was the final straw because shortly thereafter he stripped of his heavy outer layers and began thrashing banging on her door, then degenerated into his worst fit: smashing the door and crashing off walls.
After what seemed like ages, he regained his composure and found the elevator button. Called the elevator up on flight to the fifth floor, got in, and sent himself back down to where – by this time – the police were waiting in the lobby. Two big, handsome cops (as I was later told) grabbed him as soon as the elevator stopped and dragged him of into the night.
We all went back to our work, once the adrenaline subsided, but the junkie left his mark on the building through leaving a rotten stench, some rotten clothes and the wrapper from a syringe – among god knows what else.
We were later told that the basement door had been broken and the unused space had been adopted by transients: which explained why peoples clothes had gone missing from the washroom a few days earlier. Later that night, another drunk was pulled out of the basement when his singing got nearly as loud as the howls. Everyone who was still up working thought that the original junkie was back. I’m not sure which would have been worse.
Anyway, alls well that ends well. More posts to come soon, now that I’ve completed my course and have a minute to breath.
I’ve since been assured that the door has been fixed…