Pera Museum Blog is launching a new series of creepy stories in collaboration with Turkey’s Fantasy and Science Fiction Arts Association (FABISAD). The Association’s member writers are presenting newly commissioned short horror stories inspired by the artworks of Mario Prassinos as part of the Museum’s In Pursuit of an Artist: Istanbul-Paris-Istanbul exhibition. The second story is by Hakan Bıçakcı! The stories will be published online throughout the exhibition. Stay tuned!
Three people sleeping side by side. On the uncomfortable seats of the stuffy airplane in the air. Three friends. I’m the friend in the window seat. The other two are a couple, Emre and Melisa. I’m alone, they are together. And another difference. I’ve only closed my eyes. They are asleep.
When I heard the drink cart approaching, I first opened my eyes, and then put down my tray. I reached for the paper cup over my sleeping friends, and then began looking around as I drank my coffee. The comic book I had just finished reading was sticking out of the seat pocket in front of me. Spiderman caught in a web… Behind it the safety card of the airline. I took a sip from my coffee and took out the card. Squares of illustrations showing what to do if the plane crashed. Technically speaking, this was also sort of a comic book. The yellow-vested man and the woman with the oxygen mask. The adventures of two psychopaths meeting the crash with glee.
Melisa stirred in her seat and her head fell on Emre’s shoulder. We had planned this trip as a group of four. Months ago, at a kebab restaurant, drinking rakı. Emre, Melisa, Aslı, and I. My ex-girl friend Aslı. Who is down there somewhere. At first, when she dumped me and I was left alone, I gave up on the trip, but then the couple sleeping next to me insisted so much I agreed to follow them. “It’ll clear your head,” they kept saying. And I kept having visions of my brain cleared from my head and scattered on the pavements of Paris. I gulped down the last of the coffee and put up my tray. I squeezed in the safety card behind the comic book. Then I leant back and closed my eyes.
We are now descending for Paris. To our apartment Melisa found on airbnb. For a week. I would have stayed at a hotel. I like hotels. Not even the new ones – the old ones, the classics. The yellow lights of lobbies, the carpeted quiet hallways, the white slippers, the existence of the minibar (even if I won’t use it), the note pads bearing the hotel logo, the small shampoo bottles, the tiny soap bars… People my age prefer renting from airbnb. It seems to me that this choice creates for them the illusion of living there, instead of being a tourist. Like children playing house. This is our home. Even if only for a week.
We found the building while we walked around, pulling our suitcases. We stood at the door and called the landlord. He told us to pick up the keys from the delicatessen right across the street. We went inside the delicatessen, which smelt of cold cuts and cheese, gave the name of our landlord, and got the keys. It was like a very simple but very realistic video game. We crossed the street, opened the door, and went in.
An old, gloomy duplex… One bedroom was downstairs, the other upstairs. We first took look at the one downstairs. Then we went up. There was a meaninglessly long hallway, the other bedroom at the end, and a small beside it. Right in the middle of the hallway was another door with a warning on it, written in English: “This room is not in use. Please do not open the door.” We stood in front of the door for a few seconds, saying nothing. Then we tried to open it, naturally. It was locked. On the wall opposite the door there hang a painting. It looked at us scornfully, it seemed. An experimental painting. A pair of sleepy eyes, a long and distorted nose, the black paint running on the white canvas… “This is probably our landlord; how do you do, sir?” Emre said. We walked down the hallway and entered the bedroom. This one was smaller. “So, I’ll take this one. You guys can take the one downstairs,” I said.
I went into my room and unpacked; Emre and Melisa did the same downstairs. I had changed my clothes and was about to leave the room when I heard a sound like “Psst, psst,” right behind me, at my neck, which startled me like hell. My heart skipped a beat. My friends were downstairs. I could hear their voices. So who was there behind me? I turned around to see the plastic air freshener dispenser on the wall. That explained the sound as well as the vanilla fragrance in the room. I walked out and went downstairs.
We barhopped until midnight, had a lot to drink, and finally went back to our rooms. I was lying on my bed like a corpse. I was about to fall asleep when I heard a key in a lock and all my muscles tightened. The door of my room was wide open. The sound came from the locked room down the hallway. I could see it from where I was. The locked door opened. I held my breath and waited. A dark figure emerged with a big painting in his hands – I could tell it was a man, but couldn’t figure out his age. He put the painting down, then took down the one hanging on the wall. He put up the new painting, and took the old one back to the room. He closed the door. And locked it. The dispenser on the wall “psst”ed twice.
When I woke up in the morning, I still couldn’t believe what I saw the night before. What was stranger than the things I saw was the fact that I could still sleep afterwards. Maybe it had all been a dream, despite how real it felt. There was no other way I could ignore my fear and go to sleep. This thought comforted me somewhat. I was trembling when I got up to get dressed. I washed my face and went downstairs. I looked at the painting as I passed it in the hallway and froze. It was different. It was the same portrait all right, but the face now seemed closer. Or darker. The eyes were darker, the nose was darker… My face felt numb. A tremor of suffocating anxiety passed through me.
Over breakfast, I told my friends what happened. They were certain the only explanation was that I dreamt the whole thing. I asked them to come up. I showed them the new painting. They were certain it hadn’t changed. I was certain they hadn’t looked at it as carefully as I had. I took a photo of the painting with my phone. They looked at me as if I had gone mad. We went out. It felt good to be out.
I woke up in the morning with the sun that lit up the room in a half-assed way. The same terrifying thing had happened again. I the same order, in the same manner. I was sure it hadn’t been a dream. As someone used to seeing dreams for thirty years, I could tell the difference. At least in retrospect. What confused me was that I went to sleep afterwards. Normally, I shouldn’t have slept for two days after something like that.
I jumped out of bed and ran to the hallway. The painting was different. More obviously so… I was completely sure this time, thanks to the photo I had taken. I looked at the painting on the screen of my phone, and then at the one on the wall. I felt noxious. The portrait had moved away and become blurred, with a new reddish brown halo around it.
Emre thought the photo was blotched, and that the painting had always been like this. Melisa said the red became more prominent because the weather was clearer this morning, meaning there was more light in the hallway. We had an argument, then a quarrel. They accused me of ruining the vacation. We spent the day apart. But in the afternoon, we spoke on the phone and met at the fountain on St. Michel. We made up. Drank till the morning hours. I didn’t want to go back home, to that room on the second floor. But eventually we had to go back.
The possibility of it being a dream had vanished, which made it pretty difficult to go up there to sleep. I would have crashed on a couch downstairs, but there wasn’t one. I would have slept between Emre and Melisa if that wouldn’t have been ridiculous. Like a child who had a bad dream.
I was emboldened with all the drinking I had done that night, so I walked up the stairs, feeling slightly dizzy. Just as I was falling asleep, I jumped. I had worked out how I could sleep after seeing those things. It was the dispenser on the wall. It came on every time the door in the middle of the hallway was locked again. It probably sprayed some kind of gas. The vanilla scent was just a decoy. Its purpose was different. The first time I had noticed it in the morning I was walking out of the room. That’s probably why it didn’t affect me. I got up and tore down the dispenser. I crushed it under my feet like a bug.
I went back to bed and began to wait. It felt like time stood still. I was wide awake. My heart was throbbing. My hands and feet had gone ice cold. The locked door opened. The same dark figure emerged. He changed the painting. Went back to the room. Locked the door again. I watched it all, petrified. I hadn’t fallen asleep. Smashing the dispenser had been a good idea. I waited, waited, and then went to see the painting, trembling like a leaf. It had changed. ıt was darker, redder. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
I had to wake Melisa and Emre up and tell them everything. We had to leave this apartment immediately. I went downstairs. I went into their room. They were both asleep. And laughing like mad in their sleep. In horror, I watched my friends for a few seconds. When I began to feel like laughing, I got a hold of myself. I shook them, but they didn’t wake up. They went on laughing. There was another dispenser on their wall. I smashed it. As I was doing that, I felt the urge to laugh again. I pushed it back. There were no windows in their room. I went to the apartment door to let in some air. There was a warning on it in English: “This room is not in use. Please do not open the door.” I stood before the door for a few seconds, unable to move. I forced the door but couldn’t open it. I was panic-stricken, being unable to open the apartment door. I was suffocating. I climbed upstairs, all out of breath. I knew it. There was no warning on the locked door. I turned the handle, and the door opened.
I began to walk in the scarlet-tinged icy darkness. The figure seemed to follow me. I heard the faint sound of breathing. Steps… Or was it me following him? It felt like a bony hand would reach out from the darkness and grab my arm or my hair any moment. I began walking faster. The portraits were all before my eyes, melting away, changing. In the same order… Constantly transforming into each other. A face that got darker and redder and moved away, and coming closer again. After a while, I began to hear echoing sounds of laughter. Blending into each other. Moving away, then coming closer. Becoming louder, and then quieter… I was like moving inside an endless tunnel. I walked endlessly. Until I was too tired, and collapsed.
“We are now descending for Paris.” I woke up. This was what always happened to me on trips. I would be wide awake throughout the journey, and then fall asleep at the last minute. Emre and Melisa had also woken up. We sat up in our seats, gathering our stuff.
I was under the spell of the dream from the airport to the apartment. I felt restless. But I calmed down when I walked into the apartment. It was nothing like the one in the dream. There was no upstairs, no locked door, no painting… It was a nicer apartment with more light. We dropped our stuff and went out.
After lunch, we decided to see an exhibition at one of the important contemporary art galleries in Paris. Or rather, Melisa did. She had looked it up on the web. We finished our coffee and got up.
At the gallery, we split up and walked around on our own. As I was lazily strolling through the whitewashed rooms all linked together, I froze in my steps. There they were, the four paintings. In the same order, side by side. A portrait that got closer and redder. I couldn’t breathe for a moment. Then I noticed the plastic mechanism right next to me. I held my breath and waited. And just as I expected… It turned on: “Psst, psst!”
My legs turned to jelly. I collapsed.
By Hakan Bıçakcı
Translation by: g yayın grubu