I used to sublet from my best friend, who was a model, so while she was away on location for work, I stayed and rented out her beautiful apartment overlooking the beaches of Miami. It was a beautiful spot, and she only charged me for electricity, water, and gas.
My apartment had a balcony overlooking the ocean. Off to the left, where all of the adjoining flats stood were other balconies like mine.
I never gave it much thought as every morning, I took my coffee on the balcony as I watched the waves hitting the shoreline. I soaked in the early sunrise and the salty sea air.
I worked from home, and so it was my little reprieve away from my tiny bedroom with the makeshift office I created for myself in the large walk-in closet. It was on one of those mornings that I first noticed it. A shadow of a tall man was staring at me. He seemed to appear from one of the balconies directly across from mine. It was a recently unoccupied residence of an older woman that had died of a heart attack. I only noticed him because he was dressed in a long black rain jacket. It was an odd thing to be wearing in the morning as the weather was often in the nineties, even at that early part of the morning. I had never seen him before in my life. I assumed he was new to the building complex.
I often took notice of my neighbors like Mr. Hanson, who was older, and we would often exchange hello’s while he watered his beautiful tomatoes that hung from the balcony. There was Brianna, a younger girl, that regularly smoked in the morning, and sometimes I noticed she had rings around her eyes from her late nights spent clubbing. She never said much to me, but now and then she would lean on the balcony and wave. Most of the tenants in the complex were well-known, and most of them were older. They were friendly too, and there was an unknown rule to look out for one another.
So when I noticed the man staring at me, I made a mental note that I’d ask around that day when I took Bernice, my friend’s bichon, for a walk. I looked away from his gaze and pretended I didn’t notice him. It was then that he stepped out from the shadows and came closer to the balcony edge. He stood there, not making one single move, he only looked at me. I was able to make out that he had dark brown hair and ashen skin. The other thing I noticed was he made absolutely no expression on his face except or a slight curious tilt at the corners of his mouth.
He unnerved me, and I decided to go indoors to the safety of my apartment. I poured myself another cup of coffee, and as I looked out the doors from my kitchen, the man was still staring at my residence. I closed the blinds and went into my office to begin my work.
I tried to forget the man who had stared at me that morning, but then my stomach began to grumble around 11 am. I closed my laptop and went into my kitchen to prepare a meal of tuna salad and lemonade.
I looked outside towards the balcony, and I did not see the man. He had to be gone now. I looked out and saw Mr. Hanson sitting on his patio, enjoying a cup of iced tea with his giant thick black sunglasses on. I opened my glass doors to the balcony.
“Hello there, Mr. Hanson. It’s a fine breeze we have today.”
“Hello Jemma, yes, it is. How is your work going?”
“Oh, it is pretty boring, but it keeps me busy.”
“My tomatoes will be ready early this year, and they are already getting red!”
“Excellent!” I called out to him.
Then I saw the man had mysteriously appeared again. This time he was standing directly behind Mr. Hanson. He was still starring at me, and I stopped talking to Mr. Hanson, thinking perhaps he may introduce me to his friend. Instead, the tall man leaned down into Mr. Hanson’s face and then whispered into his ear.
Mr. Hanson put his head down after and then looked up at me. “I’m feeling rather tired; I think I will go inside and take a nap.”
I nodded, and he and the man went inside.
I wondered who the man was, and I could have sworn that I had seen him in an adjacent apartment from Mr. Hanson’s earlier that morning. I thought nothing of it until I did not see Mr. Hanson for a few days.
I was walking Bernice when I saw our building manager Troy. “Hey, I haven’t seen Mr. Hanson from apartment 2A in a while. How is he?”
“Oh, I can’t say, I know. I imagine he is doing okay. It is supposed to rain, so I know he will be excited about the rain for his tomato garden.” Troy smiled.
I nodded but still had this strange feeling that something was wrong. A week went by, and I didn’t see Mr. Hanson. I also noticed that his tomatoes were beginning to die and wilt from lack of watering. I spent that afternoon trying to get a hold of our building manager to do a wellness check on Mr. Hanson. I got absolutely no work done as I was growing anxious.
Finally, I could take it no more, and I decided to walk down to the bridge that connected the two buildings to the apartment complex. I crossed the bridge, and when I got to the floor, Mr. Hanson was on, I noticed something odd. There was a strange floral smell coming from it. I thought it smelled like a rose bush. I took a deep breath as it was quite overwhelming to me, and then I made my way to Mr. Hanson’s apartment.
When I approached the door, I could hear old jazz music playing from inside. I knocked on the door.
“Mr. Hanson, it’s Jemma from across the balcony. I’ve come to see if you are alright.”
The music stopped. I was relieved when I heard footsteps coming towards the door. I could see shadows of someone’s feet under the door, but the person just stood on the other side of the door, almost as if they were listening to me breathing.
I was afraid to knock again. Instead, I backed away from the door. I called out to Mr. Hanson one last time.
“Mr. Hanson, please open the door. I am worried about you.”
I saw the shadows of feet moving again, and then I heard the old-time jazz music go back on.
I was about to call the police when someone opened the door to the apartment directly next to Mr. Hanson.
“It has been going on all night.” I recognized Brianna.
She was tired looking as usual as her long black hair hung over the tattoos on her shoulder. She wore a black crop top, and there was a noticeable bruise on her hip.
“What has been going on all night?”
“That shitty old people music.”
“Oh. Do you know who the man was with Mr. Hanson last week? Tall, pale, dark hair and wearing a black raincoat like it was October?”
Brianna laughed at me. “No, but he sounds just like my type.”
“Nevermind. Thanks anyway.” I said and walked away down the hallway.
“Hey!”Brianna called out to me.
“If I see him, I’ll tell him you were worried. In the meantime, there is a band playing at the old Grotto Studio tonight if you’re interested.”
“Oh, no thanks, though. I have some work to catch up on.”
“Right on,” Brianna said, lighting a cigarette as she returned to her apartment, slamming her door.
I went back to my apartment and figured that Mr. Hanson just wanted his privacy. There was the matter of his tomatoes. I would call Troy again in the morning to check on Mr. Hanson.
The next morning I woke to strange lights from outside. It was nearly six am, and there were red and blue flashing lights.
I opened the door to my bedroom and walked into the kitchen, facing the balcony doors.
I saw blood on the patio down below and what looked like a body. Directly across from me were what looked like detectives casing the place.
One of them took a photo of me standing in my robe, and then I heard a knock at my door a few moments later. It was my building manager Troy.
“There’s been a horrible accident. I got your message, but it was too late. Mr. Hanson jumped three stories down to the patio below and killed himself.”
I looked at Troy in shock. Behind Troy was another man who I later learned was a detective to ask me if I had seen anything strange.
I had not, but I did mention he was with the man in the black raincoat a few days prior. That was the last time I had seen or heard about Mr. Hanson.
I was saddened, but life goes on as they say. Things went back to normal as best they could, and then I saw him.
I felt his eyes on me before I looked up. My neighbor Brianna was having a party. It was loud, but given she didn’t have a next-door neighbor since Mr. Hanson died, it wasn’t shocking she would take advantage of that for now. I looked across the balcony to see the tall man. He was starring at me again. Where did he come from, and who was he?
He approached the edge of the balcony with that strange still gaze. His lips turned slightly up at the corners of his mouth. This time I could not take my eyes from his. Then he did something rather odd. He leaned over the balcony and tilted his head down towards the concrete as if referring what happened to Mr. Hanson. I followed his gaze, and when I looked up, he was gone.
The next morning I woke up and went to sit on the balcony to have my morning coffee. I wondered if I would see the staring man again, but instead, I saw something somewhat concerning.
Brianna sat in her lounge chair. Her shirt was open to reveal her bikini, and her eyes were wide open towards the sunrise. Her arm showed what looked like a needle still in her vein.
Appearing directly behind her was the staring man. He looked straight towards me, and then his gaze went from me to something behind me.
In my kitchen was another man exactly like the man across the balcony from me. He was coming closer to me, and as I looked downward, I realized that I was going to have to jump.
I heard Bernice the dog then as she ran towards the man in the kitchen. It seemed to catch whatever he was off guard, and instead of coming closer, he stopped in his tracks and looked down at the dog—tilting his pale face to one side as though he were curious and had never seen a dog before.
I screamed at him.
“Get the hell out of my house!”
He only looked at the dog but backed out of my apartment and slowly shut the door. The man from across the balcony had disappeared as well.
I still don’t know who or what those men were. Miraculously Brianna was not dead. She had suffered an overdose, but it wasn’t lethal.
When my roommate came back, she told me I had to move out because she was going to be relocating overseas. I wasn’t upset about it because I had planned on leaving anyway.
I still have nightmares about the man and his staring. I often wonder if they were harbingers of death.
I guess I will never know.
I just hope I never see him again.