Claire’s landlord licked his lips and handed over the keys to her new home, a cramped and decrepit flat where the low-cost rent included utilities.
“If you ever need anything – I’m right upstairs,” he leered, leaning closer to Claire who jumped back to avoid the sweat dripping off his bushy, greying eyebrows.
“I appreciate the warm welcome.” She pocketed the key with a feigned smile and attempted to put distance between the two of them by striding into her kitchen and pouring herself a glass of water.
Undeterred, Paul followed closely behind her like a shadow. His watery blue eyes tracked her every movement and watched in rapture as the cool water slipped down her throat.
“You remind me of my former tenant, Penelope,” he said. He scratched his head and dandruff fell like snow onto his slopped shoulders. “She was as beautiful as you.”
Eventually, Paul slithered back to his flat, but the mere memory of his presence left Claire’s skin crawling.
Deciding a bath would relax her, she padded to the bathroom - which had a patch of mould on the unusually low ceiling - and turned on the taps. She peeled off her clothes and lowered herself into the warm water while her favourite song played gently in the background, soothing away her worries.
That was until the water stopped.
What looked like a piece of string was poking out the tap. Mindlessly, Claire tugged on it. It dislodged but more came in its stead. She kept pulling and pulling on the strands, but they snapped off and clung to her hands like leeches. A well-placed tug and the stuff came loose, but maybe it was best left clogging the tap because cupped in her soaking wet hands was a clump of human hair.
Claire screeched and sloshed around in the bath, struggling to get out in her panicked frenzy.
Now that the tap was unclogged, rancid water smelling of rotten eggs gushed out of it. The thick, slimy substance coated Claire’s leg before she could get out in time. It dribbled onto the floor as she gaped down at her bathwater which had turned a sickening grey colour. Claire’s stomach lurched. Gagging, she swiftly shut off the water and sprinted to the kitchen.
She grabbed a paper towel and soaked it in the glass of water she’d drunk from earlier. Only now did she notice the white flakes swimming around in the glass. Having bigger problems than a bit of limescale, she began scrubbing her contaminated leg raw until the gunk was gone. Relief flooded over her once she was clean, but it was soon replaced with unease which crashed over her like a boat in a torrential storm after realising she had to inform Paul there was obviously something wrong with the pipes.
The stench of rotten eggs returned as Claire went upstairs to knock on Paul’s door which was slightly ajar.
“Paul?” she called. A gurgling noise responded from deep within the flat, beckoning her inside.
Dirty dishes were piled in the sink and toenail clippings were trodden into the soiled carpets. There was a dedicated space on the fireplace mantel reserved only for candid photographs of girls around the same age as Claire.
The noise and suffocating smell filling the air led her through to the bathroom. It was identical to hers apart from the out-of-place cupboard in the floor, directly above the mould in her ceiling. Whatever was concealed within it groaned. Taking a steadying breath, she opened it, and was met with the reason behind the odours, the hair, the pipes, that made Claire think she was in a waking nightmare.
Concealed within the cupboard was a water tank. It was mouldy, rumbling, and the intense smell coming from it hit Claire with a wave of nausea before she’d even looked inside its unspeakable contents. And once she did, the putrid, murky waters below reflected her wide-eyed horror back at her. Scrambling back across the floor, her eyes latched onto the pipes snaking around the room which connected Paul’s bath and basin wastewater to the tank and then downwards, through the floor to her flat. To her taps. To her. Where she and countless other victims had been fed his filth and countless more would follow.
(c) Ena Catlin