Student apartment

This happened when I was a university student.

I was working a part-time catering job in a cafe near where I lived. The catering was just a side-job to the main business, so I did all the phone, packing and delivering myself. Basically, anything that wasn’t cooking.

Most of our customers were students like me who lived nearby, and after a year of working there, I knew pretty much who everyone was and where they lived.

One day I was done with a few deliveries and about to leave as usual when the phone rang. The call went as follows:

“Thank you for calling, this is (shop name).”

“I’d like delivery, please.”

“Thank you very much. If I could just get you to tell me your name, address and phone number, please.”

There was no reply.

I’d come across several people who couldn’t accurately remember their own address, so I figured the caller was just looking it up. I wasn’t especially bothered by it, so I waited.

As expected, I received a reply a short while later.

“A-ta, OO city, OO house number, 080-~”

I was relieved. After that I took the order as usual. I looked up the address, and the name did indeed match up with the nearby student apartments.

I put the goods in the luggage carrier of my scooter and about five minutes later I saw the apartment near the start of a farm road. It was a rather large building I’d seen several times from afar, but this was my first time seeing it up-close. It was a worn-down, four-story steel building, and just by looking at it you could see it was falling apart. It was after 9 pm, so it was rather late, but there wasn’t a single light on. To be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to live there even if the rent was only 10 000 yen a month.

It was at this point that I realised I’d made a rookie mistake. I forgot to ask which room number. Usually when this happened I would call the customer directly from my cell phone, but most people refused to answer an unknown call from a cell.

Feeling somewhat discouraged, I held the memo in one hand and made the call. The customer answered with surprising speed.

“Hell-”

“It’s the manager’s office.”

His intuition creeped me out, but I said thank you and opened the shoddy-looking door and made my way inside.

It was dark. The place was silent, like you might hear the sound of a car in the distance on a long, empty road. I couldn’t sense anyone nearby. The corridor spread out in front of me, sliding doors lined up on each side, and the fluorescent light for the hallway was off.

I didn’t want to waste time searching for the light switch, I just wanted to get out of there, so I pressed forth and knocked on the door to the manager’s office. The door rattled open. The light from the room filtered out into the hall. As I guessed from the voice, a tall, lanky man came to greet me.

“Sorry for making you come all the way out here so late.”

The light from the room and his polite manner put me at ease.

“It’s dark out there, so honestly I was a little scared coming here.” I was able to regain my composure enough to have a joke with the guy. Delivery and payment went smoothly and then I made my way back to the store. I chatted with the boss while I cleaned up and waited for the store to close at 10 pm, then went to settle the day’s sales as usual.

I compared the sales slips and calculated everything on a calculator when I noticed I was missing more than 2000 yen from my sales. Every now and then I turned up 10 yen short and could just secretly put that in from my own money, but more than 2000 yen was a bit much. The owner, who was looking over my shoulder, tilted his head and asked me, “Do you have any idea what might have happened to it?”

It was possible I dropped a note somewhere, but the amount seemed a bit half-cocked for that, so I again compared the balance from the day’s delivery slips.

I soon found the answer.

It was the same amount of money I received from the guy at that old apartment. It was gone. I explained to the boss that it was possible I lost the money on the way back from the OO student apartments when he tilted his head again.

“Are you sure you’ve got the right place? Check it again.”

I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but I checked it again and pointed out the address to the boss. He returned with a note full of student accommodation and landlord phone numbers, and while flicking through the pages he muttered to himself.

He didn’t especially blame me for the difference, and after he cooked me a meal, I returned home. The boss usually spoke to me with a sharp tongue, and it wasn’t until later that I found out why he treated me so kindly that day.

At the start of my next shift the boss gave me an order. “If this A-ta calls again, let him down gently, okay?”

What he meant was to find an excuse to politely refuse his order. Our store dealt with prank phone calls and persistent complainers in such a way, but it seemed rather abrupt.

“Did something happen?” I asked.

“Well, it’s probably gonna freak you out too,” he said, and told me what happened over a cigarette.

About five or six years earlier, a customer who frequented the store managed that apartment building. Because of that, many of the tenants were regular customers as well. But when the customer died, there was no-one left to manage the building, and it was closed. It’s not unheard of for student dorms to close down over the years, so it wasn’t that unusual.

But after hearing my story the boss thought that perhaps a relative was opening the building for business again, so the next day he went over to say hello and take a look around. The building was a wreck, and no matter how he looked at it, there were no signs of anyone living there. He decided that I must have made a mistake and was about to leave when he suddenly heard a voice from the manager’s room.

“Come in.”

He froze, surprised, and nervously opened the door. Inside the room was half-rotted and no matter how many times he called out, there was no answer. He ran from the place as fast as he could, despite the fact it was midday.

But there was something he noticed there at his feet. It was the food I delivered the day before, scattered all over the ground.

I didn’t want to hear anything else. Even if it was a ghost or something else entirely, I stood there and had a friendly chat with something I didn’t understand in a place I didn’t understand either.

Apparently the boss called the phone number I took down as well, but nobody answered. Of course, I deleted the call from my phone after that.

I quit a few months later. My official stance was that I’d been working there for a year and a half and wanted to try something new. But while I was working there, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about what happened. On the day I decided to quit, about a month after those events, I again received a phone call from A-ta.

“Is this Mr A-ta?” I did my best to sound like the boss, but even as I tried to control it, my voice trembled. The boss guessed who it was and gestured for me to hand the phone over. He lied and told the guy that delivery services were temporarily cancelled. Just as he was about to hang up, I could see his face change. He turned to me and said one thing.

“He’s on his way here instead.”

I couldn’t do it anymore. In the end, the person calling themselves A-ta never showed up that day. I moved out into the city and quit my job. I haven’t had anything to do with the place since.

 

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