Three Words

I live in an old apartment building. It’s a regular building with two floors, and four apartments on each floor. I happen to live in Room 104.

The other day, I was on my way to the supermarket to buy dinner when I saw a bunch of police cars parked in front of the apartment building.

“What are they here for?” I wondered, but continued on my way. I ran into my neighbour, Y-san, while I was shopping, and I asked her if anything strange had happened.

“Is your place okay?” she asked.

“Sure, why not… Did something happen at your place?” I asked back. Y-san then leaned in and started speaking very seriously.

“To tell you the truth, the people living in rooms 201 and 101 were killed the other night around the same time. Their eyes were removed and heads cut off. The woman in 102 said that at around 11 pm she heard a phone ring. A short while later it stopped, and she heard someone say something. First from 201, and then a few minutes later from 101. It was the same three words. Then around the same time they both screamed… The woman in 102 is petrified that she’s going to be next… So I told her to stay at my place for the night. She’s a young single woman, so it wouldn’t be right to let her stay there alone, you know? As long as she’s with me, a stout old woman who’s a fifth grade in karate, she’ll be fine! But, if something does happen, make sure you come and help us! We are neighbours after all!”

“Ah, yes, of course,” I replied. The housewife from 103 finished her shopping and returned home. I bought dinner and did the same.

How could such an awful incident take place just like that…? I went to bed early the night before, so… Alright. I decided I’d stay up late and see if anything happened. I mean, maybe it was just a coincidence? But she said the phones rang at the same time, and they said the same three words… something was strange. And if something happened to Y-san, it would be no laughing matter… I ate dinner while pondering such thoughts, and then sat down to read a few magazines.

… Before I knew it, it was 11 pm. I figured I’d get into bed and wait another 30 minutes, and if nothing happened, I’d go to sleep.

10 minutes passed, and I was feeling kinda tired. I was about to go to sleep when suddenly a noise woke me up.

Ring ring ring.

It was coming from Room 103. I listened closer, and heard it coming from not only 203, but 202 as well. No doubt 102 was ringing as well. So this was it? Four rooms were ringing at the same time… Then the phone above me stopped. Did they pick it up entirely unaware of the situation? (Well, I didn’t know that much about what was going on either…). Then I heard a voice. It said three words, but being upstairs I couldn’t hear very well. All I could tell was that it was three separate words, and it sounded like they were being whispered.

Until that point I had been suspicious, but now I was scared. What Y-san said was actually taking place above me. And on that note, how was Y-san and her neighbour doing? The phone was still ringing. Were they being cautious and not answering? That had to be the right answer.

“Upstairs is a goner,” I thought. I don’t know why, but of that I felt sure. But the phones in 102 and 103 were still ringing. I decided to go check on the women next door. I put my shoes on and ran out the door. The phone was still ringing. Please. Don’t pick it up… Don’t answer it… I repeated the pleas in my head as I opened the door.

“Don’t answer that phone!”

But it was too late. Unable to hold out any longer, Y-san picked up the receiver. She slowly pressed it to her ear, and then a few moments later she said the expected three words.

“Twenty and four.”

… What did that mean? There seemed to be some deep meaning hidden behind the words, and suddenly the air around me grew cold…

Then I realised the woman from 102 was no longer there. Did she return home? Shit! Her phone was still ringing! If she picks it up… then… The moment I was done thinking it, the phone stopped, and again I heard the three words.

“Twenty and four.”

… They were done for. Then I heard the phone in my room start ringing. No way. Every apartment? It didn’t matter, there was no way I was going to answer it. I had to check on the women! I threw the door to 102 open and burst inside.

… The woman was fine. She was crouching in the corner of the room, but she was fine. Shit, I forgot. What about the housewife? I ran over to 103. When I opened the door, I was shocked. She was also fine. She was trembling in the corner of the room, just like the woman from 102.

I was confused. Answering the phone saved the two women? Or was it all just a joke? No, that couldn’t be. The people in 101 and 201 were killed for real.

Wait… Did the tenants in 101 and 201 answer their phones? Maybe, just maybe, if they had, they wouldn’t have been killed but instead would have been saved?

A chill ran down my spine. I hadn’t answered my phone yet! It was still ringing!

“Hurry!”

I ran as fast as I could back towards my apartment.

Ring ring ring.

Ring ring ring.

Ring ring ring.

Thank god, it was still ringing. I just had to pick it up and all would be fine. I’d be safe! I rushed over and picked it up. But they weren’t the three words I was expecting to hear. They were something different entirely.

“You’re too late.”

There was a knock at the door.

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