Rick slid the chain-lock into place and scanned his apartment; his first adult home. The rent was nothing to laugh at, but satisfaction glowed out of his eyes as he surveyed his new domain. Several boxes stood open against the wall, and tomorrow he would rent a U-Haul and pick up the secondhand dining set he’d bought online. Though small, his apartment was perfect; top story on a separate wing with no next-door or upstairs neighbors, except for the empty unit below his. A new pre-owned car and exciting new job; his best years had begun.
Rick padded to the bedroom and turned off all the lights. His parents always complained he wasted electricity. But now, with a brand new contract in his name and linked to his credit card, Rick was very conscious of the value of energy.
He climbed into bed and turned off the lamp. He stared at the ceiling, zigzagged by the shadows of the busy city as moving cars left a wake of light beams across it. His eyelids drooped, and he was drifting into sleep when the voice whispered.
“How should we do it?”
The voice, female, young and high-pitched, was so close in his ear his eyes flew open. His heart jumped to his throat, pumping blood so fast he thought it would leap out of his chest.
“We could smother him in his sleep,” another female voice, older and hoarse, replied.
Trembling, Rick reached for the switch; the room flooded with light. He sat up in bed. Everything was as he’d left it. Only…
He’d draped his pants over the plastic patio chair furnishing the room. They now lay in a heap on the floor beside it.
Rick slid out of bed and tiptoed to the window. City lights shone in full splendor; a foghorn blew in the distance. He crept across the room towards the door, cursing himself for leaving his baseball bat in the car. He peeked into the adjacent bathroom. Nothing out of place. He then made his cautious and frightened way through the tiny apartment. Nothing wrong; locked deadbolt and the chain crossed the door.
Satisfied he was alone, Rick grabbed the cutter he used to open the boxes and returned to bed. He flicked off the light and listened. Street sounds. He calmed down and closed his eyes.
“We could also poison him,” the youthful voice whispered.
Rick sat up and switched on the light.
“No,” the older voice spoke, and Rick pressed himself against the wall, knees to his chest.
The voices were in the room, but he saw no one.
“If we smother him, it would seem like he died in his sleep.”
“How do we get rid of the body?”
“We don’t, we make a big deal about finding him.”
Rick listened to the disembodied conversation, frozen with fear as his mind raced.
Headlights traced their way across the ceiling. Car doors closed, footsteps on the concrete.
“He’s here,” the younger voice said.
Rick forced his body to the window. He tried to gaze down into the street, but the fire escape blocked his view of the parking lot.
He listened for sounds in the hall; his ears caught the click of a doorway and footsteps crossing the apartment below him. Rick slunk back into bed and drew the covers up to his chin, pondering whether to call the police.
Then he remembered the realtor had said the apartment below remained unoccupied. The last tenant, he’d said, had died in his sleep years ago. The widow and daughter had moved out soon afterwards.