I used to be sceptical about the paranormal. No, I believed that in the deep forests, in caves, in the depths of lakes, there was something mystical and old. But there’s no place for them in the cities, in civilisation. Cities are crazy; there are maniacs and psychopaths. Isn’t that enough? This story is about why I started believing in ghosts.

I was a student studying and living in a big city. After my second year, I decided to leave the dorms. I wanted to live alone. I didn’t have much money then, so I had to rent a place on the city’s outskirts. I found an old 4-apartment house in an advert. The owner turned out to be a man who didn’t talk much. He took a month’s rent in advance, gave me the keys, and left.

The flat was in the same condition as the house. It hadn’t been renovated for a long time, the furniture and appliances were old. But for that amount of money, I was okay with it. After a few days, I realised the house was only half occupied. My flat was on the ground floor, and on the first floor lived a single woman. She was about 50 years old and looked a little strange. When I said hello, she nodded and quickly went about her business. During the whole time, I never heard her voice. Sometimes, I even thought she was deaf and dumb.

The scholarship was only enough to pay the rent. So, I got a job as a salesman at the local mini-market. I came home late. Sometimes, I didn’t even have time to eat dinner and went straight to bed. At first, the house was fine, but after a while, I started to hear babies crying at night. It sounded like a newborn baby crying. It was coming from upstairs in the flat. I began to get a lousy night’s sleep. After a few days, I got tired and went to the first floor to talk to my neighbour. I knocked on the door for a long time, but nobody opened. The following day, I called the landlord to complain.

– The relatives must have arrived. I’ll come round and talk to her today,” the landlord promised me over the phone.

But at night, the baby’s crying kept me awake again.

– Are they torturing this child? – I thought angrily.

I was annoyed that the crying started at night. I decided to go upstairs again and deal with the neighbour. But as I was about to leave the flat, I suddenly heard a knock on my door. 

– Uncle, open the door, uncle! – I heard a child’s voice. From surprise, I stood in a stupor.

– Uncle, please let us in! – The voice repeated.

The time was well past midnight. I couldn’t understand what kind of child could be knocking on my door at such a time. But the knocking continued. I cautiously went to the door and looked through the peephole. Two children were standing in the entryway by the lamp’s light, staring at me. They looked to me like they were about twelve or fourteen years old. The first boy was older and asked me to open the door. The younger one was silent and looking around. Both of them had pale-coloured skin and dirty clothes. I had a sudden panic attack at the appearance of these two boys. I couldn’t do anything about the feeling of fear and mysticism.

– Open the door, please! – the older one kept saying.

Suddenly, he smiled, and it made my blood run cold. I felt my instinct for self-preservation kick in. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t make it out.

– Where are your parents? – I asked. The older boy smiled again, even wider this time. His teeth were filthy.

– A dog bit my brother. Can you help us?” he asked.

Children are usually shy, mumbling, shuffling their feet and so on when talking to strangers. But this boy was not like the others. He had a perfect command of language and showed no fear. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew one thing for sure – don’t open the door!

– Uncle, please. My brother is bleeding,” the boy said again.

All I could mumble was: “Well… it’s…” feeling myself shaking with fear. The younger boy was getting more and more nervous. I think he noticed me looking at them through the peephole.

– Well, uncle, let us in. We can’t come in until you let us in,” said the older boy calmly.

I was startled to see his hand reach out and start to open the lock. I yanked it back—maybe too hard—but finally noticed their eyes. They were black as coal. There were no pupils, no irises, just two black orbs.

– We’re not going to hurt you. You have to let us in. We can’t come in without your permission,” the older boy repeated monotonously.

That last sentence scared the hell out of me. I thought that if they wanted to come in, they would have no problem doing so. Suddenly, I heard the alarm clock go off. It turns out it was morning, and I hadn’t even noticed how several hours had passed in a few minutes. I looked through the peephole again, but no one was there. Feeling tired and relieved, I sat down on the floor. I had to go to the university but had no energy left. And I was afraid to go out into the entrance. When I got to bed, I immediately fell asleep.

A few hours later, I was woken up by a nasty baby crying from upstairs. It turned out that I had slept through lunch and was almost late for work. Forgetting the feeling of fear, I quickly cleaned myself up and ran to the mini-market.

During the day, I completely forgot about the night before. The local guard, Zhanbolat, was a lovely peepaw, and we often chatted about various topics. At first, I wanted to tell him what happened to me during the night. But then I thought he would think I was crazy. And I was beginning to think it was all just a bad dream. At 11 o’clock at night, my shift was over. As I was leaving work, Zhanbolat said to me:

– Be careful. Today, I heard stray dogs appear in our neighbourhood again.

His words have got me goosebumps. I immediately thought of the creepy kids in the night. The boy said a dog had bitten his brother.

– Do you know if the dogs bit the children last night? I asked gently.

– No, they just run in packs and scare people. But a couple of years ago, they chewed two brothers to death. It was such a scandal,” Zhanbolat recalled.

When I heard that, my legs gave out. Without answering the guard, I walked slowly towards the house. He gave me a surprised look.

– If you see dogs, don’t run away; they will chase you,” Zhanbolat gave me parting advice.

When I got home quickly, the first thing I did was lock the door. No matter what happened, I was determined not to go near the door at night. As soon as I got into bed, I heard the nasty baby crying again. I had to go to school in the morning, and that crying would keep me awake. The feeling of anger overcame the fear, and I was about to go to my neighbour’s house again. But as soon as I grabbed the doorknob, I heard knocking from outside again. “Could it be those creepy kids again!” I thought in fear. I certainly wouldn’t survive another night like this. As I stood still, there was another knock on the door.

– Hello,” came a woman’s voice.

I immediately exhaled; it wasn’t children. But just in case, I looked through the peephole. I was surprised to see my neighbour.

– Hello…, – I said in an uncertain voice, looking through the peephole.

I didn’t feel like opening the door for her for some reason. I remembered that it was the first time I had heard her voice.

– I just wanted to come up to you, you know…,” I said, but she interrupted me.

– I’m sorry about my children; they scared you yesterday,” the woman said monotonously.

Her words made my hair stand on end. I didn’t know what to say and just stared through the peephole. The woman was silent for a while, and then her mouth opened unnaturally wide, and I heard a nasty baby crying. With horror, I covered my ears and ran to the bed. Covered with blankets, I trembled with fear and lay still, listening to every sound. After a while, I did not notice that I had fallen asleep.

In the morning, I woke up to the doorbell ringing. Immediately, I remembered the whole nightmare. But my fear was in vain. It was the owner of the house.

– Open the door! – I heard his voice.

I slowly approached the door and looked through the peephole. The man was standing with a few policemen. I slowly opened the door.

– Jesus, what’s the matter with you? You look terrible,” I heard him say.

I learnt that the house owner had been unable to reach my neighbour and had come to talk to her himself. But nobody opened the door. After he smelled a strange odour, he called the police. They opened the door and saw that the woman had hanged herself. She died about three days ago. For about the same amount of time, I heard a baby crying. When we were standing outside, I heard something from the police officers.

– She had a miscarriage, lying in the sink,” they said among themselves.

Then, the owner of the house approached me. He told me I would have to look for another place to live because he was selling the home. He returned the money for the rest of the month and wished me good luck. There was nothing to do; I packed my bag and went to the mini market to work. I don’t know what was happening to me, but my brain shut down after the whole experience. It was some defence reaction to keep me from going mad.

At work, I told Zhanbolat that I had been evicted and didn’t have enough money to rent another place. I decided to keep silent about the night terrors, and then he offered me his help.

– Stay in my garage. I have a good garage, and my father arranged everything there. It’s immaculate inside. There is a small sofa; you can unfold it, and it will be like a bed, – the old man offered me.

– Thank you. I will move out as soon as I get my salary, – I thanked him.

– The garage is in a guarded car park; I also work as a security guard. It’s not far from here,” the old man told me, smiling.

All the worst seemed over and would soon be forgotten as a terrible dream. But I was very wrong.

That same night, we spent the night with Zhanbolat in the car park. I was in the garage, and he was in the guard box. The garage was very comfortable indeed. The floor was poured concrete; there was light, a cupboard for small things, and even a sink with a bucket. There were about 40 garages in the car park.

I got ready for the evening. I switched on the light, spread a warm blanket, pulled on a thick jumper and went to bed. I think I was able to relax for the first time in a long time.

By 12 o’clock, I was almost asleep. But suddenly, I heard something not far away outside hit the metal. Then again. I listened involuntarily. Again. “Someone’s throwing pebbles at the garages,” I realised. It went on like that for about twenty minutes. Sometimes, the sounds alternated with stomping somewhere in the distance, and even distant laughs were heard several times. Soon, I began to feel uncomfortable. Especially when the guard dogs barked. I got up from the couch. I went to the door and listened.

– There, there’s a man alive, I can feel him! – came the boy’s voice.

– Look, are you sure? – the other voice asked.

– No, I’m not. I can smell him; he’s here, and he’s awake! I don’t know where he is,” the voice was gambling.

I swallowed a lump. Did they come here for me?

– I must lure him out, scare him, and I’ll find him by fear!” the voice gloated.

Then, there was a metal scraping, as if someone were driving a screwdriver against the garage wall. I determined that the sound came from the garage opposite. The dogs howled long and hard.

-Uncle, please open the door; there are dogs! Uncle, please! – It was the voice of the youngest.

Hey, open up! There are dogs! Please open up! Right after the words, someone banged on the garage door nearby. I backed away from the door.

– Pleaseaaaaaah! – A child’s voice shrieked. The clinking of hands against metal grew louder.

– Open up! The dogs are biting us!” they shouted.

No dog barking could be heard, but the voices screamed as if they were being yanked alive and bitten by dogs. My heart was racing with fear. After a series of death rattles, everything went quiet.

You didn’t let us in, and you didn’t let us in then. It’s not your house. We’ll go in ourselves,” they said.

I clutched at the bolt on the door. My heart felt heavy and stuck to the bones of my ribcage. Suddenly, I realised I was missing. I was afraid. Suddenly, there was a chuckle right behind me:

– ‘Uncle, we’re inside,’ I heard a demonic voice say.

I ripped the deadbolt and flew out of the garage. In front of me stood the owner of the timid voice, a boy about twelve years old. His shorts and tank top were ripped to shreds, half of his neck was missing, and it was impossible to see how it was holding up. His cheeks and hands were nibbled at the wrists, one cheek hanging down, scratches and bite marks here and there. I screamed and rushed towards Zhanbolat’s booth.

Behind me was growling and howling, whining and barking, changing to children’s gloating laughter and back again. Someone jumped on my back, and I staggered and fell. Something clawed at my shoulder, biting through my jumper. Rolling on the ground, I realised it was incorporeal; I couldn’t fumble for it, nor could I throw it off. Bleeding and screaming, I ran back to the booth. I saw it from the corner of my eye, dangling at my side. I couldn’t see his face, only the hairs of his head caught in my shoulder. I screamed and ran towards the booth. The pain in my shoulder was getting worse. It clenched its jaws and wanted to bite off a piece of meat. Suddenly, Zhanbolat’s voice came from the front:

– Cover your face with your hands!

I hugged my face with my palms and thrust forward harder. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Minor nasty stings wracked my arms and body, and I screamed harder. The pain in my shoulder receded.

– Jesus! Fucking hell, are you alive? Fuck you, go away, shaitan! – shouted Zhanbolat.

Then I heard several shots, and in the distance behind me, I heard howling and angry shouts. I was crying; my hands were stinging, and my shoulder was aching.

We’ll call an ambulance. Let’s get you to an ambulance; hold on! Are you bleeding a lot? Is your shoulder all right? And your eyes? Zhanbolat asked me.

I woke up in the hospital. It was morning, and none of my family and friends knew I was there. Zhanbolat was standing outside the room where I was lying with a sad face. When he noticed that I was looking around frightened, he came in and spoke quietly:

Don’t fear. Everything is all right; you are alive and well. The salt didn’t get into your eyes.

I told Peepaw everything that had happened to me during those days. He believed me.

– You were unlucky. But if you’re alive, you should go to the mosque. Good thing you had a tight jumper, and your hands covered your face from the gunshot. I had to get that thing off you. What about your brains? You’re not out of your mind? The old man asked me.

– After that, I don’t know, uncle,” I said.

– If I had known you rented a flat in that building, I would have warned you immediately. A couple of years ago, stray dogs chased two brothers into the entrance and mauled them to death. Their mother was at work, and no one from the neighbours opened the door for them. Someone was at home at the time; someone saw them running away from the dogs, but he closed the door and didn’t even chase them away. You know? Maybe it was a maniac or just a creature who was curious. But the man didn’t let them in, and the boys were mauled,” Zhanbolat told me.

– Are they taking revenge? I asked.

– I don’t know, but everyone except their mum moved out. She went crazy and hanged herself yesterday. She had a miscarriage. I don’t want to scare you, but you lived with the dead for three days.

When Zhanbolat left, I lay down on the couch. I tried to sleep. Soon, the doctor came and said I was in shock, the kind you get from a salt shot. I tried to think of something about a dog and a friend who had shot it to throw it off me. The doctor hummed and gave me prescriptions and some referrals to doctors. I devised even more incomprehensible nonsense at university, but it all worked. After a fortnight, the salt stopped bothering me, and the bite and rabies shots after six months. And the scar, by the way, was still there, just a standard jaw, human, child’s jaw. I don’t think I went mad.

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