For the first three months, there was no sign that anyone else besides the newcomer lived in the house, save for the bill that came on the first day of each month. On this day, a little slip of paper, of the same make as the advertisement and welcome note, would be on the floor, just in front of his bedroom door when he woke up. This he would meet as requested by leaving his rent money in an envelope (which was always waiting for him on the side table by the front door on such a morning) and by the time he returned home from work, the table would be empty, and no more correspondence would be had until the next month’s rent was due. So, we come around to the beginning of our story. The fourth tenant lived like this, more-or-less contentedly, and did not think to ponder the peculiarity of his situation until one morning, after an unhappy meeting at work.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen!” began the school’s principal in that overly-conspiratorial way of school principals who have never made an effort to get to know their staff, yet treat them like childhood friends with whom mischief was wrought. This they do only when they want some sort of favour at year-end meetings. This principle was a stout, grubby-looking man with thick fingers and a fat caterpillar of hair perched upon his upper lip, that wriggled around whenever he spoke. The various members of staff looked around subtly enough to be noticed by their colleagues and were noticed just enough by colleagues and principal alike to be awkward. The newest member of staff, our tenant, had no such alliances with whom to share overtly secret glances, and so stared the principal, sheepishly, in the face. Seizing his opportunity, the man lifted a stubby finger to point delightedly and, the tenant thought, somewhat victoriously, at the poor unallied man. “You there! Errr… math teacher was it?” The object of that accusation cringed. “Art tutor”, he corrected. “Yes, yes, exactly!” the principal chuckled and, as he did, held his belly in such a way that for one grotesque moment he looked like a boozing Father Christmas. “Well sir, you are new here aren’t you?” The art tutor felt like he was being herded but could see no way of escaping what he couldn’t see. The glint in his questioner’s eye said that he knew the tutor was already conquered. The rest was just for show. “Well… I have been here a few months-”
“A few months! Barely half a year am I right?”
The tenant sighed “Yes, that’s correct”
“Well well”, the caterpillar man began, a smug smile tugging at his (what could be seen of it) lips. “You have been here almost half a year”, he paused there for dramatic effect and sent his gaze over the rest of his staff before continuing, “and have not yet received your initiation! We can’t let him get away with that eh?” His eyes swept once more over the now puzzled room and so did the art tutor’s. The expressions that greeted him were such that the tenant guessed there had never been such a thing before. Even so, they slowly began nodding and one or two even smiled in relief. The principal waited until everyone understood his drift- through the art tutor still did not- then clapped two thunderous palms together and boomed: “Marvellous! That settles it then; our year-end function will be at the new-bee’s house!” The staff room cheered and began to get up from their seats as if the matter was quite settled. Naturally, our tenant began his objections immediately, but the sounds were drowned out by the bavarderie of his – he looked at them as if it were his first meeting and settled on the word loathsome – colleagues. All the rest of that week, they dropped hints about the kind of theme they would prefer or the type of wine that they like. He tried in vain to point out to them that he had no intention of hosting a party, that he was sure the principal would heed his objections and that, anyway, it would be a breach of contract to even dream of doing such a thing. To this they merely chuckled, winked at him and said something along the lines of “you won’t get out of your initiation (they added a conspiratorial drawl to the word each time which eventually confirmed his suspicions that it was a thing created for him alone) that easily!” and strolled away before he could emphasise the sincerity of his refusal. That night, when he got home, he decided that he would have to take up the issue with his fellow tenants. Unsure of how to attempt the expressly forbidden communication, he sought out his lease agreement for clarification. The rule was unambiguous. He was not to even try meeting with any of his housemates, lest he forego his own tenancy. Not knowing what his next move should be, he opened his bedroom door, stared down the corridor with all its rooms leading off to each side and considered his options. He could start by simply knocking on one of the doors, but which should he approach first? Big Jim certainly didn’t inspire the confidence of a visitor, nor did the austerely named Alistair. Between those was the silhouette’s room and he still had not worked up the courage to slip so much as an ‘I’m sorry’ note beneath that door. He could always just wait until one of them emerged, but for one thing he wasn’t even sure any of them were even at home. They could have gone on a six-month long vacation for all he knew. For another, based on the incredible lack of morning coffee schedule coincidences (even on weekends), he doubted whether he could stand there long enough to catch a glimpse of any of them. Then he remembered the coffee table next to the front door. The one portal through which all his correspondences were had. Perhaps if he left a note there it may be taken up in much the same way as his rent money. He supposed that it would be more likely to end up in the hands of the right person that way too. Feeling a little relieved at not having to face a series of potentially awkward and eviction-preceding bedroom interviews (he shivered at the thought of being stuck in such a confining space with “Big Jim”- he fancied that the smell of used sweat clothes was bound to fill the room of a man so-named). His rent was due in another two weeks, so if his note alone was ignored, he could slip it in with his rent money. At last, the calculation that he had six weeks before the fated party gave him faith enough in his chosen route. So, that night before bed, he penned his request in as neat a hand as he possessed and crept down the darkened passage to leave it folded on the correspondence table. He had chosen not to switch on any of the passage lights so as not to disturb his house mates. As he turned from the table to make his way quietly back to his room, he noticed that there was a slight breeze in the place which had not been there before. He turned to check that the front door was securely closed. It was. Then he realised, with a different kind of chill, that the slight draft was not coming from the direction of the front door, but from down the corridor. He frowned slightly, but made his way, cautiously down the passage. Had someone left the kitchen window open? There was a door there too, but he had never opened it. He hadn’t the key for it either if he wanted to. Having chosen not to use the light, he had to feel his way along the walls. The kitchen door sported frosted glass in its centre, allowing for some moon light to guide him to the front. On the way back that light was a hindrance. He moved along as quietly lightly as he could, taking special care not to let his fingers fall too hardly upon one of his neighbours’ doors. The air got cooler as he got further down the corridor until, with a heart-skipping moment, his hand travelled from the wall into an empty space. He froze…
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