Prologue

Solitary confinement.

Considered a cruel and unusual form of punishment in this day and age, it's generally saved as a last resort for the worst of the worst criminals, and even then it's controversial. If combined with sensory deprivation, it becomes a form of torture that can result in mental illness and social disorders.

As diverse a species as we are, all human beings have one thing in common: we are hard-wired to be social. We do everything in our power to fight off feelings of loneliness and isolation. If we're unable to be around other people, we'll try to ward off the loneliness by duplicating the feeling of having others around. Some rely on pets for company, others will turn on the T.V. or radio for background noise, or they play video games. Sometimes we talk back to the simulated voices or animals. Anything to give the illusion a stronger presence.

But what if there were no TV or radio, no other living things around?

What can happen to a person who is shunned by society, abused, and cast into a world of isolation? How would that person survive?

I never had to ponder these things before I moved into the South Ashfield Heights apartment complex.

In fact, I thought the place was wonderful at first. I practically fell in love with it—felt drawn to it, as if fate brought me there.

I had no idea how true that was.

The first two years or so seemed great, and I was very happy there.

But then the nightmares started.


I woke up in my apartment, groaning in pain at the horrible throbbing headache. I was in my own bedroom, but I barely recognized it. It was dark and the air seemed thick and heavy. Despite the fact that my head was swimming, I managed to drag myself to my feet. I took a few steps, and started as I heard a scream ... in my confused state I honestly didn't know if it was coming from me or someone else.

I looked around and realized that objects that I felt should have been there were replaced by other objects, or missing entirely.

That's weird ... my red typewriter is gone.

Everything looked aged and was covered in rust and thick cobwebs. And blood, so much blood. It didn't look like someone was killed there—more like someone had taken a fire hose and sprayed the stuff everywhere.

I tried to open the window—so dirty that it was opaque—but it was stuck. And, strangely enough, I seemed to expect that on some level. I also noticed that the pictures on the walls were different—I didn't recognize them at all, but I was familiar with the subject matter.

As I opened the bedroom door, I immediately heard static blaring. I winced as it aggravated my already aching head, and hurried out to the living room to see what it was. It turned out to be the TV. I fiddled with the controls, including the power button, but it continued, almost defiantly. What made it even stranger was that I didn't even remember having a TV.

I thought I had a record player here.

As I moved away from it, I noticed that the front door was sealed shut so tightly I could barely see the edges.

The door is shut for good, I thought, almost as if it came as little surprise.

I returned to the living room and looked at the wall opposite the TV. More photos I didn't recognize, but one in particular caught my eye. It was dirty and hard to make out, especially since concentrating on it hurt my eyes, but I could tell that it was many dead bodies laid out in a kind of star formation. I counted 21 of them.

It can't be … why are they here?

To the left, I noticed a spot where the cracks and cobwebs and other discolorations of the wall came together and formed a startlingly detailed image.

Creepy ... it looks like a face.

I blinked and shook my head several times, thinking I was seeing things, but the image refused to go away. It gave me a strange feeling of dread, and I instinctively backed away. The feeling intensified as black spots formed in front of my eyes, as if I were about to pass out. My headache intensified to an unbearable level.

That's when the room … changed. Cracks started radiating from various spots in the walls, as if the entire room was beginning to fall apart. The floor shook violently.

The general chaos seemed to be focused on one area of the wall—the area where the face was—and it wasn't long before a black stain formed there, and slime began to drip down from it. I backed away further, my brain rocking with shock and confusion.

Then I froze at the sight before me.

Some sort of creature or ghost emerged from the slime-soaked area, pushing its way through some kind of soft spot in the wall I couldn't see. This … ghost looked vaguely humanoid, with white rotting skin and no hair, clad in black. It moaned and grunted in a way that sounded barely human. Its head twitched and convulsed in an unnaturally rapid way.

Once out of the wall completely, it fell to the floor, but quickly rose so that it floated just above the ground.

I tried to get away, but its very presence caused pain and disorientation that worsened the closer it came. It wasn't long before it was bearing down on me, knocking me to the floor, where I mercifully blacked out.


Once again, I woke up in my apartment … only now it seemed back to normal.

"Oh man … what a dream …" I muttered to myself as I sat up and rubbed my eyes, trying to clear the cobwebs.

I sat at the edge of the bed like that for quite awhile. Normally, it only takes a few moments for me to shake off the effects of a nightmare. But this one disturbed me so deeply that I couldn't stop thinking about it.

And it wasn't just the content. For one thing, I'm not someone who has dreams very often, and when I do, they're usually vague and not worth remembering. This one, however, was so vivid that I could smell the rot and blood, the death and decay. Even the splitting headache seemed to carry over into reality.

All things considered, I wasn't all together sure that it even was a dream. Sure, I woke up in my own bed, but there's no way my mind could have conjured something like this. Could it have been a premonition?

What could it mean?

"Maybe I just need to get out more," I quipped, pretending that I didn't still feel the cold terror that the dream brought on. I shook my head and left the bedroom, making a defiant decision to just get on with my day and forget about the nightmare.

But when I reached the end of the hall, I froze in my tracks at the sight to my left.

"What …?"

I blinked several times and shook my head, but it was definitely there.

The front door was … locked. No, not just locked—barricaded. Twelve metal anchors with eyelets had been bolted to the wall on either side with a couple on the door itself. An obscene number of thick chains had been threaded through them, zigzagging across the entire height of the door, held together with no less than four large padlocks. It was all done in a very sloppy and chaotic manner as if rushed. A couple of the anchors weren't even holding chains. A few of the shorter chains did very little, and one simply hung from its tether, but the longer ones more than made up for it.

Not only had someone locked me in, but they could only have done it from the inside.

I approached the door slowly, as if afraid it might bite me. I reached out, gingerly, and touched the chains, running my hand along several of them, needing to know if they were really there. They were. Somehow.

I began yanking on them. They pulled taut, but nothing gave.

Who ... who would have done this? was the only coherent thought I was able to form.

I pulled my hand away as I felt a powerful terror wash over me as it all finally began to sink in.

The apartment wasn't really all that big. It wasn't cramped or anything, but it'd be pretty difficult for someone to break in and barricade my front door like that without waking me up in the process.

I was silent for several moments before I could put my thoughts into words: "What the hell's going on here?" Then I quickly clasped my hand over my mouth as I realized something.

If it could be done—apparently it could since I was seeing it with my own eyes—then whoever did it could still be in the apartment.

The first thing I did was to look for a weapon so I could search the house. I was practically in the doorway of the kitchen already, and the fridge was within reach, so I opened the door and grabbed a wine bottle by its neck. I glanced around the living room, then I went down the hall where I checked the bathroom and—much as the idea disturbed me—my bedroom closet. I found no one.

Finally, I went back down the hall to the laundry room, which was to the left of the front door. Assuming it was even possible for someone to have messed with my front door, surely that room would be the best place to hide in afterwords (not to mention that it was the only place I hadn't looked yet). I slowly took the knob with one hand and raised the wine bottle over my head with the other, bit my lip in anticipation, and threw the door open hoping to startle whoever was in there and catch them off-guard. Again, no one. I flipped the light on just to be sure, but the room was small enough that the light from the hall had already illuminated it pretty well.

I put the wine bottle away, stood by the door with my arms folded and just … stared at it. Was I even awake? Was I dreaming again? Was any of it really happening?

I had a terrible feeling that—as far-fetched as it was—this was real.

I was trapped, although I didn't know who would do such a thing or why.

I wouldn't be finding out any time soon.