Short Story: “Laundry at Night”

Their apartment complex had a curious set up. The four adjacent buildings had a shared laundry room, housed in a separate building located on top of the small hill behind the buildings. There was a cobbled path that led up to it, which got rather slippery in the cold months of the year and the neighborhood kids liked to use that hill for sledding. The laundry room, or rather, laundry hut as the residents liked to call it was amply furnished though and the machines were free to use by anyone that had the key. They all supposed they’d earned that luxury because the rent was rather steep considering the location, a bit away from the center of pretty much everything unless you had a car. Once or twice someone had lost their key and the super always threw up a huge fuss, changing the locks to the laundry hut and replacing all the keys.

The machines remained free though and the laundry hut remained open until close to 11 pm, when automatic circuit breakers cut off the power until 7 am the next morning. Those late hours were mostly used by those with odd working hours or those that simply didn’t have the patience to check if the machines were free earlier in the day.

Emma was someone with little patience, which was why she was braving the autumn rains, trudging up the hill to the laundry hut this evening. Somehow laundry was something she put off until she opened her underwear drawer and discovered she had nothing left that was clean and appropriate for everyday use. The rain wasn’t so bad, it was the wind that did it, sneaking in under the thick cardigan she had pulled on after assessing her clothes situation and realized that there was still enough hours left to get a few loads done and dried before the power got shut off in the hut.

As she got closer she saw that the lights were on and there was a shadow moving inside the laundry hut. She cursed under her breath, wondering if her luck was so rotten that the one night she had to do the laundry another slacker had decided to do the very same thing. When she got closer though she saw that the hut was empty, nothing but the harsh lights from the ceiling lamps greeted her as the opened the door with her key. Emma supposed that someone had just finished up and left before she got up the hill. Though she hadn’t met anyone….

She pushed away those puzzling thoughts and started filling the machines with the most important stuff that needed washing. Underwear and towels in one machine, the nice shirts and pants for work in another. She started up the machines and headed back to her apartment, there really wasn’t any time to waste waiting on the machines and she didn’t really expect anyone else to show up. Besides, it was first come first serve here. As she headed down the hill, the wind at her back now she felt a slight prickle down her spine and she turned to look over her shoulder.

There was someone inside the hut now, a dark shadow against the bright windows. How odd… Emma forced herself to look away, continued down the hill with this unsettled feeling in her gut. As she neared the comforting presence of the buildings she’d managed to convince herself that she’d been seeing things and to confirm this she turned around again. Yes, the laundry hut was empty once more, its window creating pools of light on the muddy, brown lawn surrounding it.

The hour went by quickly and any feelings of discontent were all but gone when Emma headed back to toss her laundry in the dryer. It had gotten both darker and more unpleasant if that was possible, the near-leafless trees creaking and rattling in the wind, while the wind tore at her hair. The only thing providing any source of light was the lights from the hut.

And there was a shadow in the windows again.

Emma had to stop again, pulling her jacket tight about her frame. There had to be a sane explanation she told herself, either she was seeing things or someone was just checking to see if the machines were free. If the latter she should hurry and get her stuff out of them. She continued walking, picking up the pace and she was almost out of breath when she got the door to the hut open.

There wasn’t anyone in there.

Surely the person had given up, she told herself. Or she really was seeing things. Gods, what a silly girl she was! It was just the weather messing with her mind. She almost started laughing out loud at her own behavior as she moved the wet laundry from the machines to the dryer. She put some nice shirts aside that she needed to be ironed and then left. That was the one annoying thing about doing laundry in this manner, all the walking back and forth. Emma had talked herself into a rather happy mood though, until she turned back towards the hut again.

She was a bit closer now, so there was no mistaking that shadowy figure against the windows, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst part was the eyes. Like golden pits of fire, with pupils like a cats, boring into her. Yes, she was sure it could see her.

Emma ran all the way back to her apartment building, gasping for breath, hugging the shirts close to her. Panic had her in an icy grip, though her brain tried to find logical explanations for what she’d seen. Nothing helped though and she spent the time waiting for the laundry to dry in a state of stunned fear. She knew she had to go back, but she was afraid to, afraid to see that thing again. After putting it off for as long as she dared she had to leave, but it was with much hesitation and dread that she headed back out.

Every step she took felt like she was walking through deep snow, the rain whipping cruelly at her face, one part of her trying to convince her to keep going, the other telling her that she didn’t really need those clothes. Surely she could wait until the morning to get it, though it might be a bit hectic to squeeze that in before she had to leave for work. The fallen leaves crackled under her shoes as the shape of the laundry hut loomed up before her like a haunted house in a scary movie.

The laundry hut was empty.

Hesitantly she approached, but the hut remained empty. When she opened the door, facing the same emptiness she felt something inside her burst. Relief flooded through her and feeling almost giddy she gathered up her things in her hamper, happy, but still eager to get out of there.

Then, as she stood by the door, about to leave she saw the reflection in the glass of the door. The shadowy thing was standing behind right behind her, its eyes afire in its dark face. Frozen to the spot with fear she was unable to move or even turn around to look. “I’m imagining this” she repeated to herself as she saw the thing lift large hands to grip around her throat, smooth as silk. Then everything turned dark.

 

***

 

She woke up on her hallway floor with her laundry hamper tipped over next to her. Her head felt stuffed with cotton, her limbs stiff and unresponsive. She felt like she was waking up from a horrible nightmare. Slowly she pulled herself off the floor, wondering if she truly had dreamed it all. That she’d somehow passed out after she got back from the laundry hut. Then she got a look at herself in the hallway mirror.

Her neck was bruised and blue, as if something with long fingers had tried to squeeze the life out of her.