It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when the sobbing echoed through the apartment complex. Everyone rushed outside to find Jacob, kneeling in front of the leafless birch tree, crying. They stared in awe, unsure of what to do. After all, no one knew anything about him. The tenants stood shocked and confused as Jacob’s fingers dug into the soil at the base of the tree – scooping handfuls of dirt into his pockets. He continued until his pockets were full, then the crying ceased, just like that. The silence was so unnerving that some backed into their doorways, as if taking precautionary measure for an impending calamity.
Dirt spilled from Jacob’s pockets with each step as he slowly made his way back to his apartment. His movements were meticulous and deliberate, he seemed to savor each step like a mouthful of delicious food. Step after step his neighbors watched with anticipation, not sure of what to expect, but sure something would happen – Nothing did.
This would be the last time anyone saw Jacob.
Jacob was a strange old man. He would leave his apartment once a day for exactly an hour and stand in the courtyard talking to the ground near that birch tree. No one really paid him much attention due to his age. An old man enjoying a quiet moment outside was really no cause for concern. He never spoke to anyone directly, and the conversations he had with the dirt were an incoherent string of babble. Everyone just assumed he was senile, or suffering from any number of age related mental disorders.
His eyes were squinted and from a distance it looked as if he had no eyes at all, just black behind the lids. That gave the kids plenty of reason to avoid him. They would try to scare each other and tell stories of how he was really a ghost and how they had seen him perform numerous supernatural feats, even though none of them really had. The kids often played doorbell ditch and Jacob’s door was a favorite target- even though he never answered.
Nothing was known about Jacob, but rumors and gossip surrounded his origins. The strangest part about him was he only left for that hour. He would never leave the apartment grounds, not even for food, or personal items. His rent showed up in the drop box, on time, and other than being mysterious, he was honestly no trouble to anyone.
No one had ever held a conversation with him in all of the years he had lived there. Many residents tried, but he would just respond with, “Don’t get dirty”, and a closed mouth smile. After a while, everyone collectively assumed he would be ok and just wanted to be left alone.
The days turned into a week and no one had seen Jacob. Residents began to assume the worst. He was old after all, and him dying wouldn’t be a big surprise, but what happened that Sunday still resonated throughout the minds of all in attendance.
After a week, William and Carter- the Landlord and Janitor, decided to check in on the old man.
They approached Jacob’s door cautiously, as if he had been previously threatening. They didn’t know why they were nervous – they had no reason to be. They tried, but couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. They stood in front of his door, hesitant, both unsure of what to do next. Carter banged heavily on the door – three times. They waited, but nothing happened.
Carter banged again, and William yelled out, “Hey Jacob, you alright?”
Silence filled the air. Carter cocked his head to the side, listening for any noise inside.
“Anything?” William asked. Carter shook his head.
William removed a ring of keys from his pocket and inserted one into Jacobs door. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open, but to his surprise, it didn’t budge. He pushed again, leaning his shoulder against the door. The door slowly slid open as William grunted and strained. He continued to push until it was open enough to enter.
It was dark inside of the apartment. Not just the absence of light, but dark like the inside of a closed casket. The darkness was thick, and for a moment William thought about closing the door and calling the police.
Carter placed his hand on William’s shoulder. “We gonna just stand here and stare?” he asked.
William reluctantly squeezed through the cracked door into Jacob’s apartment. The room didn’t seem as dark once inside, and the light from the cracked door offered a small amount of visibility, but not much. The smell was unbearable. William covered his face with his shirt to try and block the smell. It was an indescribably moldy, sour blend of fermented filth. Carter gagged, but fought the urge to throw up.
Behind the front door, the refrigerator lay on its side, serving as a barricade. Carter wondered why Jacob would lock himself inside like that and how such a frail man could have moved the refrigerator alone. He pushed the thought to the side for the moment.
Carter managed to drag the refrigerator away enough to fully open the front door. The outside light illuminated the living room and revealed a thick layer of dust and dirt covering the entire room. William couldn’t believe it, the room looked like it hadn’t been lived in for a hundred years. Paint peeled from the walls, while the furniture was rotted and dilapidated.
William called out to Jacob, but got no response. They stepped deeper into the apartment, each step caused a small cloud of dust to stir up into the air. They checked the entire apartment, but found no one inside. Jacob had either left in the early hours of the morning, or just disappeared into thin air.
As they checked each room, they found the windows covered by cardboard and nailed shut. The same thick layer of filth covered every room and thing in them.
Everything about Jacob was a mystery and growing in strangeness by the second. In all four corners of every room sat a small glass jar. Each jar had a melted candle sitting atop of it. The candle remains dripped down the sides, partially obscuring the contents of each jar. Upon further inspection, the contents appeared to be dirt.
The bedroom had the aforementioned jars in each corner as well, except in one of the corners sat a shrine. Glass jars formed a semi-circle around several black and white photographs perched on a small wooden box. The largest one was a picture of a woman with the face scratched out. The other pictures were of strange cryptids and horribly deformed people, at least they looked like people. Some of the jars had liquid in them, others had pieces of paper, buttons, feathers, insects and dirt. Some jars were cloudy and the contents were beyond recognition. Candles melted down to the base rested on top of each of them. Golden pendants with foreign shapes and symmetry draped over the shrine.
Carter picked up one of the jars and held it close to his face. “What the hell is this?” He asked rhetorically. Something inside of the cloudy jar scurried, he dropped the jar and stepped away, nervously wiping his hands on his pants.
William leaned in and retrieved a hand written note from under a broken jar. Loose soil spilled from the jar like the entrails of a bloated dead possum. He brushed the remaining dirt from the page with his hand.
The note read: From the dirt we came and to the dirt we shall return. The earth hungers for what is rightfully his and grows impatient. The Candle seals the jar and the jar keeps them confined. Keep them trapped. If the prison is broken, avoid contact with the dirt at all costs. If it tastes your flesh its thirst will not be quenched until it enslaves and consumes you. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, one by one they will come for us. Don’t get dirty.
They stared at the broken jar for a long moment. William looked down at his open palm. His hands were covered with dirt crumbs and dark smudges. He immediately rubbed his hand on the side of his pants.
They knew what the letter was implying, but refused to accept it as anything more than the rambling delusions of an old man who had lost his mind. As they thought it over, the whole situation seemed more and more impossible, but some subconscious cue caused them to repeatedly wipe the dirt off of their hands. Even if this had all been just some old man’s final slip from sanity, it still didn’t explain where Jacob had gone.
All of the windows were nailed shut from the inside. The front door was locked and pinned closed by the refrigerator. Unless Jacob was a ghost and could really walk through walls, like the neighborhood kids suggested, there was no other explanation. William laughed to himself at the thought.
They pushed the supernatural thoughts out of their heads and went back to work, cleaning the place up as quickly as they could. Carter loaded all of the shrines contents, along with the jars in each room, into a box and tossed the box into the dumpster outside. The jars shattered as they hit the bottom of the dumpster. Carter stopped for a moment and thought of the letter. The letter bothered him, but he wasn’t ready to succumb to Jacob’s fantasy world that easily.
As sunset approached, they retired to their own apartments. They did not speak of the strangeness of the day. Exhausted and eager to push it out of their minds, they quietly parted ways.
Carter sat slumped in a worn but comfortable recliner, drifting in and out of consciousness. The television illuminated the room as a popular talk show host recited a string of witty jokes to an enthusiastic audience.
A procession of heavy handed knocks came from the front door. Carter came to life, eyes wide and foggy, still half asleep.
“Yeah, who is it?” Carter yelled from the comfort of his chair. No answer. He waited a long beat and as he began to ask again, he was interrupted by more knocking. The heavy thuds reverberated through the house. The banging on the door as such a late hour was startling, but the dead silence that followed bordered terrifying.
Carter grabbed a hammer from his toolbox and approached the door. He leaned in towards the peephole, squinting his right eye. As he inched closer, he could slowly begin to make out a silhouette. Just before he could fully see any physical details, the visitor banged on the door again – this time shaking the door on its hinge. He jumped back, raising the hammer in his shaky hand. His heart pounded in his chest, breathing labored and body trembling. He stared at the door and to his amazement and terror, the handle began to turn back and forth. It turned gently at first, but grew more violent with each turn.
Carter stood paralyzed, until the deadbolt lock slowly began to turn to the open position. He rushed to the door, pressing his shoulder against it and turning the lock back to closed. The door shook violently as if someone were trying to knock it down. His body jerked with every impact. He slid up the door and gazed out through the peep hole. His eyes widened with sheer panic as the view revealed what was on the other side of the door. The door continued to shake as Carter peered out into an empty hallway. There was no one there to take responsibility for the banging or attempted break in- just an empty hallway.
“This can’t be,” Carter thought. “This is not possible.”
His mind drifted back to the shrine in Jacob’s house and the letter. He struggled to find answers- rational or supernatural. Just then the banging stopped flat. He waited for a moment, certain that this was a ploy for him to relax and let down his guard. He slowly stood to look out of the peep hole again, not sure of what he was expecting to see. The phone rang loudly. He spun quickly with his hammer raised, only to realize it was nothing sinister.
He snatched the phone off of the hook and screaming erupted from the receiver. It was William, hysterically yelling into the phone.
“They are trying to get in, I can’t see them, but they are breaking in the windows and doors and I can’t keep them out. Oh, my god.” His voice grew more desperate. “Carter listen to me, it was the jars, the letter, Jacob. I don’t know what to do, just don’t let them inside. Oh, God….”
The phone went dead, Carter held the phone to his ear in shock, shaking uncontrollably.
The front door knob began to shake and turn again. Carter rushed to the living room, just as the door began to open, he crashed against it, slamming it shut and turning the lock closed. Across the room, a window began to slowly open, he grabbed it just in time, slamming it shut.
The thought of Jacob’s apartment came back: the refrigerator, the nailed windows and the letter. He grabbed his couch and drug it across the living room. He flipped it over and pinned it to the door. The door handle continued to turn back and forth.
Hammer in hand, Carter grabbed a hand full of nails out of his tool box and began to nail the windows shut. The door banged violently against the couch, but he ignored it. His hands were shaking so badly that he dropped four nails for every one that he managed to hit with his hammer.
He could barely hit a nail squarely on the head. He bent several nails, missed others completely- hitting the windowsill. From the other side of the window, an unstintingly deformed face pressed against the glass. Carter screamed, dropping the hammer and falling to the ground.
He couldn’t reach the window in time, and it slowly slid open. A thick gust of dust and sand blew in- blanketing the area near the window. Carter scrambled across the floor on his hands and knees. He coughed and gasped for air as the dust continued to pour in. Every grain of sand seemed to be alive as it moved to each corner of the room, covering everything.
Carter crawled towards the door, but the dust in the room made it hard to see or breathe. He tried to move the couch, but it was too heavy to move from his knees. He desperately clawed at the couch, moving it only a few inches. He gagged and struggled for air before finally collapsing. He was consumed right where he lay. His body was no more, just a mound of earth and sand.
No one knew what happened to Carter and William. Some say they found a fortune inside of Jacob’s apartment and ran off with it. Others say they were taken by Jacob’s ghost, but since no crime could be verified, the police were forced to add it to the pile of missing persons cases.
The case was revisited shortly after, when two police officers involved with the case disappeared mysteriously. When William and Carter weren’t seen for several days, the police were called. The missing officers were the first to respond to the call and both entered the dirt covered apartments. The rooms were considered a potential health risk and everyone following them wore protective masks and suits when they entered.
Several days went by and neither officer came to work or answered their phones. Their wives and children also went missing. It was possible that they had packed up and left, but no clothes were gone, no personal items missing, cell phones and credit cards were unused. All that remained in their homes was dirt and sand shrouding everything inside.