It’s entirely possible that she is—has always been—the thing at her door.

She couldn’t tell you why, exactly, it wakes her up.

She’s a deep sleeper, Inez. So it must be the sharp of it—the sudden burbling silence in its wake. The way it doesn’t sound like scratching, until it does, until it doesn’t, a pulsing, humming sound, thrashing like the tail of a grounded fish.

She doesn’t open the door.

In the morning, she thinks she must have dreamed it: that the sound lives inside of her, and her alone. On the outside, everything is so quiet she could almost forget.


She does not imagine the scratches, when she comes home—the long neat lines of them, scored like the course of a river down the sleek, flat front of her door. It’s just that she can’t be sure what made them, or when.

It could have been her.

Because that’s the thing of it—the rub, as they used to say.

Inez is not the kind of person who holds on to time.

Inez is not the kind of person who holds on to anything—her possessions, her breath. When she gets home after a night of drinking, she is more than capable of climbing her own walls. So she can never be sure.

It’s entirely possible that she is—has always been—the thing at her door.

When she comes home after the holidays, it is to a darkened apartment and the bright, fly-hot smear of buzzing blood across the living room wall.

When? says the blood. 

“When what?” Inez answers, and goes to get the bucket from the hall closet. Her hands are not shaking. The sound the flies would make, if it were summer, is present in her head like a knell.

“You should call the police,” Inez’s best friend informs her, leaning over the side of the couch where she is stretched, half on and half off, like the statue of a saint in ecstasy. Inez is smoking a cigarette, and takes a moment to tap her ashes into the empty teacup on the floor.

“And tell them what?” Her voice is smoke-thick. The feeling in her chest, if there is one, might be curiosity. “That I’ve been getting brown-out drunk and writing on my walls?”

“You don’t actually believe that.”

Martha’s voice sounds incredulous, and for a moment, Inez wants to shake her, disturb her—knock her off the couch and onto the floor. She cannot explain the impulse, even privately. She doesn’t know what it is she wants.

“I don’t not believe it,” she says. Martha rolls her eyes. Upside-down, it looks subtly inhuman, a little wrong.

“That’s not the same thing.”

Inez shrugs. “It isn’t not the same thing.”

The sound of shifting springs; Martha has sat up, looks down at her, now, from above.

“Well, fine, then,” she says, her voice like the hush of a housefire. “That’s your own business. But don’t come crying to me.”

Inez snorts. Her head feels like it is full of lightning—a backlit flash arcing across her skull. One of those saints, with her head haloed in flames.

“Please. You’ve never seen me cry.”

Why? the paint on her wall asks her, later; or, not the paint; she is old enough to know blood when she sees it. 

“Why not?” Inez asks it, as she sprays household disinfectant on her wall, wiping up the clotted gore with lazy, sweeping motions. 

“I just genuinely don’t think the cops would believe me.”

She’s sitting with her boyfriend in the ugly light of a cheap café, and he keeps stirring his coffee, as if that will distract him, somehow, from the enormity of it all, from the way that Inez looks at him under the overhead lamps.

“There’s someone breaking into your apartment—”

“It could be me.”

He rolls his eyes.

“You know how I am. It could be me. I’ll do anything drunk.”

For a moment, he weighs this information. Comes to an unflattering conclusion.

“In that case,” he says, in an irritated voice, “where are you getting the blood?”

She gets home late; there’s nothing there; no scratch marks, no blood on the walls.

“Well?” she says into the dark. There’s no answer; she doesn’t know what she expected. “Where are you getting the blood?”

She checks her credit card statements, later—looks up slaughterhouses on her phone. No explanation is forthcoming. 

The walls have their own answer, although it takes them a day or two to work it out. She finds it in the bathroom, on the tile on the inside of her shower.

We take what we are given.

“Could it be yours, do you think? The blood?” It’s Martha asking. They are out to coffee. A different café. A different kind of light.

Inez sips her cappuccino, glances up to find her friend watching her with all the bright intensity of her beetle-wing eyes.

“No,” she says at once, although there’s no way to know.

We take what we are given. Inez doesn’t give anything away.

Are you afraid? the blood asks, and Inez laughs.

It’s been a long time since anything made her scared.

“I think you should leave.’


She’s crouched on the floor, and Martha is on the couch again; they’re passing the bottle between them, Inez grey-eyed and silent, Martha humming, badly, in time to the low pulse of the neighbor’s radio. She takes a swig of whatever it is they’re drinking, passes it back.

“I think you should leave the apartment.”

“I don’t think that will help.”

Martha sits up. Her eyes in the gloaming are cat-bright.

“You don’t—”

It’s not in the place, Inez wants to say. She does not think Martha would understand.

“Well, anyway, my lease is gonna be up in May. Couldn’t you—”

Inez shrugs. Her head is pleasantly empty, a low grey pulse of sound. She thinks she sees it, sometimes, the red of it, coming up out of the dark. This thing crawling after her. 

 “Whatever you want.”

 It’s easier than fighting. Whatever else it is.

Martha quirks her head in acknowledgment. Pulls the bottle out of Inez’s hands.

“So you’ll come with me?”

Inez is silent for a moment. She’s going to break up with her boyfriend. She hasn’t really been able to put it into words, the why of it—only the desperate sense that it would be better, somehow, if she were miserable; or maybe she already is. She watches Martha drink from the bottle mouth, settle back against the hump of the couch.

Okay, thinks Inez, okay—so we’re doing this now. So this, maybe, is the way things are going to be. 

“Why not?”

Martha swirls the liquid at the bottom of the bottle. Her face looks thoughtful, handsome and taut. At least she’s stopped talking about the police.

They go apartment shopping together in the early summer brightness. She wants a flat across town—Martha. She has it picked out before they’ve even discussed it.

“It will be cheery,” she says, once Inez is over the threshold.

It won’t do any good, Inez wants to say. And restrains herself.

No point borrowing trouble, she supposes. It will find her when it finds her.

When the current takes her, Inez thinks, it will be fast and ugly, but at least it doesn’t have to be her fault.

When the scratching comes, later, Inez is drunk and alone, and she briefly considers calling Martha just to have someone to talk to, just to have an excuse to call it off.

I’m sorry, she wants to say. It clings to her throat like wisteria. A clawing vine. She bangs the flat of her palm against the wall.

He cries when she tells him. Her boyfriend.

Inez watches him as if from a great distance, thinks again of throwing herself from some imaginary height.

“Come on,” is what she says instead. They’re drinking cheap beer at the bowling alley. She feels thoroughly and incontrovertibly ridiculous, as if her life is a film she is watching, the setting and script of which have left her unconvinced.

Even so, the feeling is inescapable. She gets drunk after he’s gone, throws up on the asphalt outside her car. Sleeps in the back. When she gets home, it feels empty. For the first time, she considers how horrible it is to be alone.

Martha wants her to help with the décor.

She takes her to the furniture store on the outskirts with its nightmare of interlocking rooms, and Inez stares at the fantasy tableaux and wants a drink.

“I think this is a good color,” says Martha, settling by the curtains where they hang, side by side by side, like shrouds. Inez refrains from gripping them in both her hands, shaking them until the rings rattle on the support beam.

“Sure,” says Inez, watching Martha sift through shades of pink. Frown and pause and reassess. The thing, Inez supposes, is that she doesn’t care. It must be her apathy that drives Martha mad.

She cannot imagine caring so much about curtains. About flowers. About a little blood under the nails.

Well? it asks, later, as if it is expecting something.

She does not know how to answer that.

In the night, in her new apartment, Inez dreams—she sees the room she lives in, the place she lived in childhood, the phantom specter of an empty home. Her mouth tastes like iron. In the steady moonlight, she imagines she can see it—a shapeless thing, a second self.

Stay, she wants to ask, but the thing turns away from her. Stay.

When she wakes up, it’s in her bedroom, new-painted, the smell of cardboard from the shipping boxes in her throat. The bright half-light from the bathroom illuminates the text.

A reminder.

Welcome home, it says, incredible in its ugliness.

It takes her a moment to identify the emotion.

It is relief.

Michelle Schulte is a Midwesterner by birth and a recent transplant to the East Coast. When not writing or doomscrolling, she can be found in a museum, or walking so fast down the streets of our nation’s capital that passersby stop to comment to her that she walks, like, really fast.

Credit: “Blood Drop” by The Bontots from Noun Project (CC BY 3.0)

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