Chapter 1

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Second Floor

Chapter 1

Anemic snowflakes fell at intervals, landing, but not sticking to the rugged, red brick. Brick which Matthias was certain had been there since the dawn of time. He craned his head back, one of the snowflakes settling on his cheek. The landlord had warned him, while peering over a set of coke-bottle glasses, that nothing about his new apartment would be modern.

"Is there indoor plumbing at least?" He had joked.

This earned him a dire look which closed his mouth and which he hoped meant that he would have a working toilet. Writers were supposed to live spartan lives, he supposed, but he drew the line at using an outhouse.

"It doesn't look so bad," he mumbled more to himself than the Uber driver who peered skeptically from behind her steering wheel.

"Is it... is it falling in at the top?" She asked.

"No, the vines hide the upper corner, see?" Matthias gestured and took a few steps to his right, only to let out a strangled sound when he spotted the sizable hunk missing from the building's roof as though Godzilla had stopped by and taken a bite. Matthias decided not to mention this to his driver who seemed worried enough to be dropping him off here. Like he was a poor kid she was about to abandon in the snow. He marched back to the open trunk and yanked his suitcase and three black garbage bags filled with his remaining belongings onto the curb to join his reading lamp, TV, and beanbag chair.

"Need help?" His driver offered, though he didn't think she sounded very keen.

"It's alright." Matthias returned his gaze to the building. There were bars on the first floor windows, but he suspected an enterprising thief could spend an hour with a chisel and have a sizable hole carved in the brittle brick.

Matthias took a big breath, as one about to jump into a frigid lake, and stepped up the chipped steps to the main door. He clasped the icy handle and gritted teeth, knowing his driver was still watching him, whether out of curiosity or pity, he wasn't certain. The metal handle burned his palm with cold but it turned neatly and the door swung open to reveal the lobby, such as it was. Painted the color of used mop water accented by a deeply scuffed tile floor, the wall to his left housed the tittle, metal doors of the residents' mailboxes and to the right stood a plastic garbage bin and several damp cardboard boxes. A doorway beside the boxes stood open to reveal an aged, coin-op washing machine and drier. Everything smelled like feet.

With bags draped over his shoulders and his small TV cradled in his arms, Matthias headed for the stairs, kicking his beanbag in front of him, filled with the stubborn desire to make it all in one trip. The building was so old it didn't even have a shaft for an elevator, though Matthias suspected that if there had been one you couldn't pay him enough to use it.

He faced the only modern thing in the lobby. Thick, fingerprinted, hopefully shatterproof glass doors. He used his new key with his University of Wisconsin keychain and the latch clicked willingly open. His new apartment awaited on the second floor. Not much of a trek, he encouraged himself stoutly as he clamped his keys in his mouth and hefted his lamp under one arm like a lance.

The stairs were metal with little teeth for traction and he tried not to think about how much they would hurt if he tripped and met each one on the way down. So consumed was he in placing one foot squarely on each step, while balancing a TV and several wobbling garbage bags that he nearly stepped on a little girl sitting on the stairs.

"Oh!" Matthias peered over his TV at the child. He looked up at him with eyes so dark they were nearly black. She had warm brown skin and appeared to be about four years old. She also appeared to have dressed herself as she was attired in a bright pink, princess costume, complete with cone-hat. She blinked at him for a long moment, then pulled a naked Barbie from the step in front of him.

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