By Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Melissa had kept her suspicion a secret. She assumed no one would believe that something, some energy, some spirit entered the apartment with the couch.
She had been in her new Brooklyn apartment for two months, sitting on folding chairs and floor pillows, before she finally had time to shop for furniture. Being a vintage girl–loving everything from midcentury fashion to Turner Classic Movies–Melissa headed for the local Salvation Army store, not far from her building, and found the perfect couch. Thrilled at finding the grass green, velvet sofa with the tufted back, she was even more thrilled when they threw in two Marimekko print pillows.
When the couch had been delivered, she admired how perfectly the retro style suited her apartment. Melissa arranged odds and ends she had picked up at flea markets and thrift shops to fill the room until it looked cozy, her kind of cozy–eccentric and expressive, colorful and chaotic. She snuggled into her new couch, pulled on a coral, chenille throw and placed one of the print pillows under her head. The tap of gentle drops against the window eased her to sleep until she had a nightmare. She was bound and gagged, frightened. The shadow of a man stood over her. When she tried to scream, she awoke, breathing heavily, and looked around her apartment–unfocused, unsettled, unnerved. Gradually, her mind cleared. It’s freezing in here. She looked around. No windows open. It wasn’t this cold before.
Melissa glanced at the clock. “Uh-oh.” She grabbed her phone and texted her friend whom she was meeting for dinner. “Jenny, sorry. Fell asleep. See you there.” She rushed to pull herself together and get to Nikos, their favorite Greek place. Melissa dug through her purse for her keys to lock up before leaving. She searched every counter, table, drawer, and inch of the floor in her tiny apartment. She pushed her bangs away from her eyes and exhaled in frustration. “I know I put them in my purse.” As she started one more sweep of the living room, she heard the jingle of metal hit the wooden floor. Her keys lay at the foot of the couch. “Must have been in the cushion.”
When Melissa got to the restaurant, Jenny was already at their favorite table with a white wine in front of her. “So, how’s the apartment shaping up?” Jenny asked.
“Got my new couch delivered.” Melissa scrolled on her phone until she came to the photo of her couch. She held it up for Jenny to see.
Jenny squinted. Her face looked as if she had just bitten into a lemon.
“I know. Not your style.” Melissa dropped her phone in her purse.
Jenny shrugged and smiled. “New? That’s not like you. Where’d you get it?”
“Salvation Army.” Melissa scooped a dollop of hummus onto a pita chip.
“Technically, it’s old. Will you ever buy something…like…at Ikea?”
“I love conversation pieces. The more unusual, the better.”
Jenny sipped her wine. “Unusual…that sums you up.” They both laughed.
When Melissa got home that evening, the lamp beside her couch was lit. “That wasn’t on when I left.” Maybe it was? She turned it off and grabbed the chenille throw from the couch to bring to bed. Freezing in here.
A sound woke her. At first, it had worked itself into her dream, but as it became louder, it jolted her. She checked the time. 3:06. Before leaving the warm cocoon of her multiple blankets, she listened. Is that coming from upstairs? She sat silently. The hall? She wrapped the throw around her and walked into the living room. It’s so cold in here. The noise was louder. What is that? It sounded as if someone was pulling something across her wooden floor, back and forth, back and forth. As she neared the couch, it stopped. Melissa looked down. She thought she might have kicked something without realizing it. Nothing. She went to the kitchen and listened near the sink. The pipes? She knew old buildings offered lots of creaks, squeaks, and whatnot. Nothing. She tugged the throw around her and went back to bed, anxious to crawl under the three blankets piled atop her sheet. Gotta talk to the landlord about the heat. It’s only October, but this place must have drafts coming from everywhere.
As the week went on, that noise continued, and other things developed. Melissa’s keys were never in her purse, where she always put them. The TV remote, silverware, jewelry went missing. She’d find them while cleaning, always in the same place. Eventually, she knew to go straight to the couch and rummage beneath the cushions. I must be losing my mind.
The following week, while sitting on the couch eating dinner in front of the TV, the light in her bedroom popped on. She froze. Her first thought, an intruder. She slid her hand across the couch cushion reaching for her cell. The light went off. She was about to dial 911 when the ceiling light in the kitchen went on. Her head jerked toward it. It went off, and the lamp next to her, beside the couch, went on. Must be a short somewhere. She made a note to call the landlord in the morning: heat, noisy pipes, check electricity.
She left the lamp on afraid she’d get a shock if she touched it and went back to her dinner and Turner Classic Movies. Though she was born about a half-century after most of these films were made, she couldn’t resist the glamor, romance, clothes, and stories in these old movies. “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was on one of her favorites. As soon as she got cozy on the couch, she
felt as if someone was tracing her spine with a feather. The hair at the back of her neck rose. The lamp beside her went off. Normally, watching Gene Tierney stand up to Rex Harrison in a romantic tug-of-war by the sea would have enthralled her. Not tonight. The lamp beside the couch went on again. Did that shade just move? She heard the scraping sound travel across the floor, right in front of her. She drew her knees to her chest and hugged her legs tightly making herself as small as possible, squeezing into the pillows around her. The couch jerked and slid a few inches until it was at a slight angle as if someone stood behind and gently pushed one side. Melissa quickly turned. No one there. She glanced at the printed pillow resting next to her. What’s going on?
Since the landlord’s efforts found no problems with plumbing, electricity, or drafts, Melissa turned to the paranormal. She had been interested in all things spiritual for years and was both excited and a little scared to think she might actually have her own first-hand spiritual experience. After trying everything research said she should try–sage cleansing, salt at her doorways, crystals, holy water, prayers, and mantras–she felt angry that the couch had gotten the best of her. Exhausted, frustrated, annoyed, and resenting not having any control over this interruptive whatever or whoever was causing the trouble, she was lost on what to do next.
She met Jenny for their weekly dinner at Nikos. On the walk to the restaurant, she argued with herself. I’ll tell Jenny. No, she’ll think I’m crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Halfway through dinner, Melissa decided to go for it. “Jen, something’s going on in my apartment, and before you say I’m nuts, hear me out.” Melissa described what she had been experiencing.
“Did the landlord check for an electric problem?” Jenny asked.
“Yes, no electric problem. No plumbing problem. No drafts. No nothing.”
“Too much spiked seltzer lately? Next time I come over, I’m taking those cans of White Claw home with me.”
Melissa glared at her and slammed her fork on the table.
“Sorry, Mel. Just joking. Oh my God, chill.”
“You think I’m crazy. I knew it. That’s why I didn’t say anything sooner.”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.” Jenny put down her wine glass. “Well, the good news is it’s not an intruder.”
“Good news?” Melissa’s eyebrows rose beneath her bangs.
“So, this all started when?”
“The day the couch was delivered.”
Jenny squinted. “You sure? Nothing like this was going on when you first moved in?”
“Any new neighbors in the building? Any construction going on?”
“So, definitely started after the couch?”
Jenny stared at her friend. “I got nothing.”
“I do,” Melissa said. “I’ve been doing some research, looking into how spirits can attach themselves to objects. I’m sure the couch is haunted.”
“Really now.” Jenny tilted her head. “That’s your conclusion? You think your apartment is haunted?”
Melissa held her cell up to show Jenny a photo of the couch again. “Not my apartment, my couch. Everything was fine before I brought that couch home. What else can it be? There’s no other explanation.”
“Hmmm…maybe we should have our Halloween party at your place this year.” Jenny leaned back in her chair. “Did I go too far?” She reached for Melissa’s hand. “I don’t know if your couch is haunted or not, but, really, Honey, it is ugly. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but those pillows, those colors, are a little cornea-shattering.”
Melissa clenched her jaw and stared at her friend.
“You know how I feel about old stuff. Just sayin’, maybe it’s all that color that makes you feel jumpy, not a ghost.”
“Fine, don’t believe me.”
“I didn’t say that. I believe that you believe the couch is haunted, that some kind of ghost came with it. And if you’re more curious than scared, well, I don’t know what to say about that.”
Melissa said, “I wouldn’t believe this either if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. And now that I’ve done some research, I’m sure this couch has some kind of energy or spirit attached. Aren’t you the least bit curious about that? I am.”
“I don’t buy into ghost stuff. I’m not curious. I’m concerned. For the sake of conversation, what if it’s not the couch, not a ghost? What if there’s someone more physical lurking around, you know, like a human? Have you been watching the news? There’s been break-ins around here lately.”
“If you believed me, you wouldn’t have said that. I just told you. There’s a spirit attached to my couch.”
“Mel, listen. If you’re convinced the missing things and the lights and everything else that’s going on are supernatural, don’t you want this stuff to end anyway? Maybe it’s time to toss the
couch. Whether it’s a ghost or spirit or poltergeist or a leprechaun or whatever else runs amuck in the otherworld, don’t you want things to go back to normal?”
Melissa folded her arms. “I just thought it would have stopped.”
“But it didn’t,” Jenny said.
“I know.” Melissa took a deep breath. “I thought I might be able to help this spirit or get rid of this energy, but I don’t know what else to do. I tried everything except a Ouija Board, which I read I shouldn’t use.”
Jenny asked, “Not that I’ll need this information, but just curious–why can’t you use a Ouija Board?”
“Something about allowing a spirit to have control of you or opening a portal or something. It’s dangerous.”
“More dangerous than, like, a robber, a rapist, a murderer?”
Melissa could see both frustration and concern in her friend’s eyes and understood her concern and how incredulous this all sounded. “I could call in a medium or paranormal investigator.”
“I’d call the police first, but that’s just me.”
“Jen, I’m serious. I’ve been trying to connect with this spirit. I’m talking to it, but that
isn’t working.” Melissa shrugged. “I bought sage, too.”
Jenny put her napkin down. “But you don’t cook.”
“To cleanse, to clear the energy.”
“Of course, the energy.” Jenny rolled her eyes.
“I would love to find out who or what is attached to this couch, but I’m getting nowhere. It’s really affecting me. I can’t sleep. I wanted to do the whole ghost hunter thing, discover who it is, what it wants. Like I said, I wanted to help it. But things have been getting worse. I’m not comfortable in my own apartment. It’s like this spirit is testing me. I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I’m totally furious at this thing, whatever it is.” Melissa hesitated. “And because this energy seems so strong, I’m kinda getting scared now, too.”
“I’m scared for you,” Jenny said.
As they left the restaurant, Jenny said, “Are you going to be OK tonight?”
“Not convincing. You shouldn’t be there alone. What if all this weird stuff is not the couch? Forget I just said that. Come stay with me.”
Melissa shook her head. “No, I’ll be fine.”
“Call me, then, if anything happens, whatever time it is. Promise?” Jenny let out a deep breath.
Jenny jiggled her keys in front of Melissa’s nose. “Be sure everything is locked.” She hugged her friend. “Love you.”
“Love you, too.” Melissa and Jenny walked off in separate directions.
When she got home, Melissa scanned the room and waited before she plopped on the couch. She ran her hand across the cushion. It is comfortable. And pretty. She turned on the TV determined to watch Turner Classic Movies. She felt that chill then heard a thump. Her book, that had been on the table next to the lamp, hit the floor just to her right. No, no, no. She grabbed one of the throw pillows. “Who are you? Why are you here? Why are you doing these things?” No unusual noises, just the hum of her fridge and the ticking of the vintage cat clock, another
Salvation Army find, she had mounted above her sink. Except for the cat’s tail swaying left to right and its bulging eyes shifting to count the seconds, everything was as it should be.
The chill intensified around the sofa. Melissa shuddered. She thumped her fist against the couch. “What do you want? Leave me alone!” Tugging the chenille throw around her, she got up, put her book back on the table, and sat on the floor, positioning herself like a boulder. “Maybe you don’t want to be here. Well, I don’t want you to be here either.” She looked at the couch as if awaiting a reply. “I wanted to help you. Please, I’ve had enough.” Melissa folded her arms across her chest. “This is my apartment. Hear me? I’m going to watch this movie, and you’re going to leave me alone.” From the corner of her eye, Melissa thought she saw a shadow behind her television, but it was gone the instant she noticed it. Her body felt as if it were encased in a block of ice.
Her TV channel suddenly switched to the news. “The Brooklyn break-ins continue. On Saturday night, a forty-six-old Bushwick woman…” Melissa flipped back to TCM. The TV switched again. “…police have video of the suspect, and they believe this latest break-in is part of a recent crime spree that has…” She held the remote like a weapon. “Stop!” Melissa shouted. She looked around the room. If the shadow had been there at all, it had not returned. “Enough!” She punched the movie channel on the remote and threw it at the couch cushion. The floor wasn’t as comfortable as the couch, but she tucked her legs beneath her and snuggled into her blanket. Her movie was back.
Black-and-white movies, though she loved them, always made her sleepy. She was in that twilight state–not fully awake, not deeply asleep–when the window she had opened earlier for a little fresh air slammed shut, and the lock slid into place. She jumped. Melissa sank deeper into her blanket and moved a few inches away from the couch. As the television became background noise, she decided she had waiting long enough and was at ease with letting the couch go.
After returning from a dentist’s appointment on a Wednesday morning, she picked up her grocery list from the kitchen counter and walked to the couch. “Please, be good. Please?” She petted the arm of the couch as if it were a puppy. She left for the supermarket. When she returned, as she neared her apartment, she watched as door slowly swung open. She stood like a concrete column in the hall, clutching her grocery bag. Worried an intruder might be inside, she hesitated several feet away from the door. She called Jenny. “My door was open when I got home.” She felt guilty for not telling the truth, that she had watched her door open on its own. “I’m scared to go in.”
“Where are you?”
“In the hall,” she whispered.
“Wait downstairs. I’m calling 911. Get out of there.” Jenny hung up before Melissa could say another word.
Melissa watched the door open further, and from where she was standing, she saw the lamp beside her couch turn on. Then, she watched the couch levitate at least eight inches off the floor.
Jenny called back. “Police are on the way.”
“It’s the couch.”
“What? The couch? Don’t go in there. What are you thinking? Was the lock broken? Did it look like someone forced the door?”
“No. It’s fine.”
“No, it isn’t!”
“I’ll call you later.”
“I’m not hanging up.”
“I hear the sirens now,” Melissa said. “Call you back.”
Melissa met the police in the hallway and explained it was all a mistake. “I’m so sorry. I gave a key to a neighbor who waters my plants. She usually does that on Thursday, but she had to be away tomorrow and came into water today. And I forgot to tell her I was off today. Didn’t expect to see my door open. I thought someone had broken in. My fault. Everything’s fine.”
The police asked to search the apartment anyway. Afterward, Melissa called Jenny. “They just left. Everything’s fine.”
“Fine? You think so? Are you…never mind. Listen, if I thought my couch was haunted, one of us–me or the couch–would be gone.”
Melissa leaned against the wall, slump-shouldered. She stared at the couch. “I’ll call the Salvation Army to come take it back.”
“Let me get my coat off and get something to eat. Call you later.” She put her phone down and walked to the couch. “You!” Melissa found her book on the living room floor again. The room was freezing. “What do you want from me?”
After lunch, she called to have the couch picked up. Well, she thought, I did it. Then, she called Jenny as she promised. “No need to worry.”
“Really, Mel. Come stay here.”
“I’m fine. I’ve got laundry and stuff to do. It’s getting late. Wanna make the most of my day off. By the way, they’re picking up the couch tomorrow.”
“Talk to you in the morning.”
“Call me later if you want,” Jenny said. “I’ll just be here worrying about you.”
That evening, Melissa went to bed with her book in her hand knowing reading always helped her doze off. Just as her eyes were about to close, her comforter moved off her body as if someone tugged it playfully until it mounded on the floor beside her bed. She scrunched up against her headboard, clutching her book against her chest. She waited, stiff with fear, eyes trained on the floor, unable to scream, climb out of bed, or even reach for her cell. A tear slid down her cheek. “Please leave me alone.” A rattling and tapping startled her. She gathered the courage to get out of bed and head toward the sounds, grabbing her comforter with angry force and throwing it on her bed before leaving the room. “This is mine!” she yelled.
When she walked into her living room, she noticed her doorknob jiggle. She looked at the arm of the couch. “You.” She nudged the back of the couch with her knee. Now totally awake, she plopped onto its cushions and turned on the TV. Then, her apartment door shook. Her doorknob pinged. The hinges squeaked. She pressed her hands to her temples. “Have fun, couch. Tomorrow you’re outta–”
A man’s hand–flesh, bone, muscle, and strength–came from behind her and clamped her mouth. She smelled cigarettes on his scratchy, wool gloves. She felt something hard and cold press against the top of her head. A gun! Oh, God, a gun. Melissa tried to twist around, but the intruder held her so tightly, she could just about strain her eyes enough to see the curve of the dark-colored wool hat he was wearing.
He mumbled something, indecipherable to her. His voice, the television, the scuffling sounds merged. Fear garbled her brain. Her familiar surroundings were suddenly strange. She was sweating, shaking, slithering to break free, twisting her head hoping his hand would slip so her screams could escape. The intruder pulled her off the couch and held her against him. He stood at least five inches taller than she did and pressed her head against his chest. She felt the cold of his leather sleeve and smelled perspiration and cedar, a spicy woodsy smell, beneath it–his cologne, he was wearing cologne. From behind, he twined his leg around her ankles and pushed her to the floor, face down. He pressed one knee on her back, the bulk of him at her side. He kept the gun to her head and stuffed a foul-smelling rag into her mouth.
Things began to blur. She felt nauseous. He tied her hands behind her into such an unnatural position it made her wince as the mangled rope pulled her arms back. Melissa couldn’t
speak, couldn’t scream. In that moment, every fright she had ever feared before faded. Melissa twisted her head around and stared at the two dark holes in his face mask, following their every twitch, contracting her brow, opening her eyes wide, squinting to focus exactly on the eyes of her attacker as if each of her facial movements were a sentence, as if she could make him hear her pleas for mercy with just a look. Then, she felt the familiar chill just over her shoulder, and her couch began to bounce like a small craft on rough seas. Its pillows rose and flew toward the startled intruder. She saw a grey mist rise from the sofa and envelop the masked man. He released Melissa. She rolled away, and the grey mist surrounded him. In her state, she couldn’t discern if the mist was really forming the shadow of a person, a dark figure, a hazy version of a body silhouette at a crime scene.
Melissa watched the intruder swat at the shadow. While he was distracted, Melissa wormed across the floor and huddled beside the TV. She watched the shadow hover over the intruder, holding him to the floor, a couch pillow pressed against his face. The gun slid from his fingers. The shadow moved it away from his body. Her eyes fixed on the intruder’s legs kicking. She watched him struggle to breathe, watched him tug, pull, push at the pillow that was held by hands transparent, but strong. Then, the pillow went limp, and the man scrambled out from beneath it, his wool cap scrunched up enough in the back allowing her to see his thick, dark hair damp with sweat against his neck. He ran for the door. The shadow followed him. The intruder jerked backward. Melissa heard him yelling. He collapsed as if he had been pushed down with the force of a prizefighter. He lay motionless.
The shadow moved toward Melissa. Her body tightened. Her eyes widened. Her throat incapable of a scream. As the shadow floated near her, she felt colder, and the ropes binding her
wrists loosened. She wrestled with the ropes and freed herself. Then, the shadow moved back to the intruder and hovered just above his chest.
Melissa pulled the putrid rag from her mouth and breathed deep breaths, choking, coughing, heaving. She tried to scream despite the violent rise and fall of her chest, the vibrations rippling up her arms, her throat struggling to take in gulps of air. She spotted her phone, crawled toward it. She dialed 911.
The shadow dissipated to mist again and remained suspended above the intruder. As the police approached her door, the mist evaporated, blurring at the edges and disappearing from the outside first until it was gone.
She couldn’t remember if her apartment door had been open already or if the police or even the mist/shadow had opened it. The activity, the chaos, the voices, and her light-headedness made it seem as if she were watching a film in fast-forward, seeing but not comprehending. Images and noise, familiar but strange. She crawled to the sofa, the intruder’s smelly rag in her hand. She rubbed her wrists and the red marks and bruises already forming. One policeman was at her side, helping her onto the couch. When he had her settled, he returned to his partner and the intruder, who was handcuffed and propped against the wall.
Melissa felt something hard beneath her thigh. The intruder’s gun peeked from under a cushion. She slid her hand across the fabric. “You.” With her eyes closed, Melissa whispered, “You can stay.”
About Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Maureen Mancini Amaturo is a New York based fashion and beauty writer and columnist. She teaches Creative Writing, produces literary events for Manhattanville College, and leads the Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007. Her publications include: two beauty how-to guides for Avon Products, personal essays, creative non-fiction, short stories, and humor pieces published by Ovunque Siamo, Boned, Bordighera Press, Months To Years, Bluntly Magazine, Mothers Always Write, Pink Panther Magazine, Eunoia Review, Baseballbard.com, Flash Non-Fiction Food Anthology published by Woodhall Press, a poetic tribute to John Lennon published by Beatlefest, articles and celebrity interviews published in local newspapers and online. She was diagnosed with an overdeveloped imagination by a handwriting analyst. She is working to live up to that.