The frog croaked.
It was a grating sound, a false call just a little too treble to be believed. It came from the plastic monstrosity that lingered by the door, awaiting those returning home with its hoarse welcome. Ben couldn't quite remember where exactly Sarah had bought it, though he often hoped that whatever store it had been was now out of business, paying penance for stocking such a dumb thing in the first place.
Twice he had tried to ask her to throw it away, and twice she had smiled that twisted lip grin that made him pause just long enough to lose his window. She knew, and he knew that she knew, but they danced around that poorly hidden truth all the same. It was an unspoken game of amusement reflective of a larger one their marriage had fostered for almost ten years. One Ben was reluctantly thankful for, though that was not a truth he would ever say out loud.
Setting aside the groceries he held, he stared down at the ridiculous motion sensor with some contempt. It’s empty eyes looked up at him like windows into a coal mine. He wondered for the slightest of moments if Sarah would notice its absence. He could tell her it had grown legs and decided they were far to trite a couple to announce day after day like some versed footman. She would smile at that. He would smile too.
But then he knew she would go and buy a new one.
He couldn't help but laugh as it croaked defiantly, catching his heel as he moved into the kitchen. One day he would find something that annoyed Sarah equally as much, and then he would watch her struggle to tell him.
From inside the kitchen he could see almost as much as he could feel an angry wind whip outside. It pressed against the glass of the window, forcing the pane to creak the way glass did when stressed. An almost crunch, like a boot only lightly stepping on gravel.
He set about the familiarity of unpacking a day’s groceries when he noticed another sound. One not quite natural to the home or his ear, which was likely the only reason he heard it through all the other sounds. Without stopping, he turned his ear to where it seemed to be coming from, only half listening.
When after a moment it continued, he put away the loaf of bread in his hands, and set out to find whatever it was, only partially aware that’s what he was doing. Thinking of things he had to do, he wandered into the hallway of the home. The front door had acquired a rather nasty squeak— not half so irritating as the frog of course— but he’d promised Sarah he’d oil it all the same. And the bedroom closet was to be emptied to make way for god knew wha—
Whatever noise he’d been searching for had ceased, and save the whistling wind outside, a quiet had settled over the house again.
With a noise meant only to mark a mild curiosity, he returned to the kitchen to find a home for something called a sapodilla that Sarah had insisted he buy. Deciding after a moment that the countertop was as good a place as any, he left it where it was. It was a rather strange thin—
The noise came again.
He blinked, running a hand through his hair. Normally such a languid sound wouldn't have warranted a second thought, but something about this particular noise caught just enough of his attention to make him pause.
It was a faint scratching, like a bushel of delicate branches tied together and slowly dragged down the inside of a wall. Or the tips of someone’s fingers moving gently down a page.
He moved to the hallway again, tilting his ear upwards to the ceiling.
Again, it stopped.
A frown slipped across his face then, one that lingered a moment as he took a careful step back into the kitchen, his eyes glued to the ceiling. He waited.
The sound came back.
The words stopped short in his throat, turning into a half cocked yell as something loud slammed against a window somewhere deeper in the apartment. With a movement somewhere between a run and walk, Ben moved so that he could peer into the living room.
On the opposite end of the room, he noticed something on one of the windows.
Eyeing it the same way he’d eyed the frog when Sarah first brought it home, he shuffled further into the room.
A bizarre feeling overcame him as he neared the window, like there was a little cloud of anxiety nipping at his heels. Or an uneasy rain pouring down from above.
Now only a few feet away from the glass he could see the mark for what it was, and in that moment he felt something cool squeeze at his heart.
It was a handprint of a dark scarlet colour, clear as day against the grey backdrop of the swelling storm. Like a kid had dipped a hand in a bucket of paint before high-fiving the window.
Unable to really understand what it was he was looking at, Ben made another noise. This one a little more timorous than the last. What he knew to be most odd was that he and Sarah lived on the tenth floor. Save a prank loving window-washer, he had simply no idea how such a thing would have come to be.
As he stood trying to wrap his mind around it, another sound exploded through the apartment. A similar crashing noise like a bird unable to see glass for what it was. Coming from the kitchen this time, Ben followed it and abandoned his half run for something a little faster, sliding on his socks as he tried to stop.
Like an unworldly greeting, another hand caught in mid wave had been slapped onto the window. Red like an evening anger, thin tendrils of something trailed down from the tips of its fingers, forming lines that better resembled veins when seen in context.
Try as he might, Ben was unable to stop his heart from dragging itself up and out of his throat. Like the most natural of drums, his heart beat in his ears.
The loud sound came again, this time from the bedroom.
Now unapologetically sprinting, Ben stumbled into the tiny room, forced to grab ahold of a dresser to slow himself.
He spotted a third hand, no less cardinal than those that had come before it. Surrounding it like little islands on a map were droplets of whatever substance they were. He stared in mixed horror and fascination, unable to keep pace with what was happening.
A silence lapsed then that Ben strained to listen through. He was sure a forth hand would follow. He was sure in a way he couldn't quite put to words; a certainty that stretched beyond bone to the skeleton unseen.
But no such noise came.
Though a frog did croak.