All the places you think are real, are real. Events and people are pure invention.
We got more beers and a Guinness pie each. “A couple of the blokes wouldn’t go in. It did feel weird down that end. Really cold. It was about 32 degrees outside, you know, smelling of Christmas. Hot gum trees. Hot footpath.
“Inside the buildings it was like an oven. Thick air, hard to breathe. The windows are all nailed shut to stop people killing themselves. But that means no fresh air gets in. It’s bloody awful.
“You could barely breathe on the top floor. The lights were already shot by then but there was a weird glow, like glowsticks or something. But by the time we got to 15P it was bloody freezing.
“My mate goes, ‘I didn’t know the cooling would work without power’. Yeah, we haven’t let him forget that one.
“I’m the bunny who goes in first. At the door, I thought I could hear voices.
“ ‘Shut up, you lot,’ I’m telling them, but no one was talking. They heard the voices, too. Not like conversation. More like a bunch of people calling out their own shit at the same time. Like those arseholes in Parliament, all being arseholes at the same time. We reckoned it was coming from outside, but I knocked anyway. Felt like an idiot, but knocked. No answer.
“The doors were mostly locked even though people weren’t going back. It was habit, I guess, and respect for the place you lived in. You don’t want shit heads going in to wreck it when you’re gone.
“The ones with unlocked doors mostly had the doors wide open as well. Those places were filthy, almost every one. Boxes of toys with ‘donated by’ on them, so these people got the freebies at Christmas time and didn’t even bother keeping them. Most of the other places were neat and tidy. I took some photos to show my boss because he’s got a real thing against people in government housing, ‘oh, they burn the furniture and shit’ so I wanted to show him how well these places were kept.
“This door was locked. We had a master key so I opened up. A couple of times we kicked the doors in, just because we could. Always wanted to do that. Open up, it’s the cops! That sort of thing.”
He was telling me a lot.
“It might sound bad, but really we’re not hurting anyone. And we have this thing? Where if a person really needs to get away, we’ll move them for free. I do it and a couple of mates. We only have one or two a month. So I’m not all bad.”
“But this time I unlocked the door. There was a strange smell in the air. Not quite BO. I’m used to that, people I work with. More like roses. Like rose perfume covering up BO.
“The place was full. I mean crammed full of stuff. No one had touched a thing here forever. There was food on the kitchen bench, long since mouldy. We didn’t open the fridge, not wanting to know what we’d find in there. The bin bag was half full, but luckily nothing growing.
“I told them we might as well get started. We looked through things as we carried them downstairs, but most of it was old guy stuff. Things we didn’t want, like books and old coats and shit like that. He had some nice furniture but you can’t pinch that — full of white ant.
“There were plants inside too, mostly dead, but one or two had these water bottles stuck in them. One of the guys took them home for his wife. I took that rose you saw.
“It was even colder inside. This place had been renovated. It was really fancy, with one of those expensive kitchens. Marble bench and secret cupboards and that.
“The building manager told us the guy was a hermit. No one ever saw him. Not for about three years. They couldn’t find him to kick him out with the rest of him. Sorry, relocate them.
“In the spare bedroom, there was a weird low humming noise that almost hurt your ears. And a huge old cupboard. And the only other thing was that crate, sitting in the corner. The one you bought off me. I swear, I heard these voices going take us take us take us keep us. So I did. I carried that box downstairs and by the time I got back up again, the flat was a hothouse. And there was a smell. Not like the other. A kind of stench, you could say.
“That old cupboard in the bedroom? Where the crate had been? The doors had come open…”
He stopped talking. I gave him a minute, but when he didn’t start up again said, “What?” I said. “The door was open and what?”
Bram Stoker, twice-World Fantasy Award Nominee and Shirley Jackson Award winner Kaaron Warren has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She’s sold more than 200 short stories, three novels (the multi-award-winning Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification) and six short story collections including the multi-award-winning Through Splintered Walls. Her latest short story collection is Cemetery Dance Select: Kaaron Warren. You can find her at kaaronwarren.wordpress.com and she Tweets @KaaronWarren
Part six of The Public Menace of Blight will be published on the site tomorrow.
The title comes from Pritchett, Wendell E. 2003. The “Public Menace” of Blight: Urban Renewal and the Private Uses of Eminent Domain. Yale Law & Policy Review 21, 1-52.