NEON MONKEY by Oli Jacobs

 As you shut the door behind you, you hear the rain lash against it. In the background, the overground train shudders along the raised track, echoing against the alleys and streets around the building.

  You don’t remember riding it, but you remember how it felt. The flat air, the monotonous rumble in the tunnels. The leering man at the end of the carriage.

  And then the rain. It has soaked through you. It clings to your skin, moist and slimy.

  You look at your reflection in the door. The hamburger costume you wear for your job sags off your shoulders, wet and mouldy.

  You take it off right there and then. It hits the floor with a pathetic squelch.

  Behind you, the CCTV whirrs and turns to face you. From the speaker below, you begin to hear the automated voices of the other residents.

  HI JEN.

  HELLO JEN.

  HEY JEN.

  HELLO JEN.

  You look up and smile at the camera, giving a little wave. Already, the stiffness of the building makes you sweat. You can feel it run down your temple, mixing with the lingering rain.

  You need a shower.

  Before that, you check the mailboxes. Someone has vandalised one. Number 18. You don’t know who lives there, but the whole box has been ripped from the wall.

You make a mental note to email Maintenance.

Dragging your soggy burger costume across the carpet, you listen as the damp slither echoes against the walls. The whole building has pure, white walls. Sterile. Empty. You wonder if it was meant to make the many corridors feel more open.

You feel it just makes them more oppressive.

With key already in hand, you open your door and pull your costume inside, throwing it in a lump in the corner. You don’t feel you’ll need it anymore. After all, you are expecting an email from the Top Floor.

In your inbox, you find it.

They like your work.

They think you’ve settled in well.

They offer you the job full-time.

You celebrate with a beer.

The job—such as it is—doesn’t pay well but comes with benefits that override a need for a substantial income. Your apartment is yours. Your bills are all paid. Sometimes, you even get a delivery of shopping direct to your door.

You don’t know who brings it. You don’t even remember ordering it. But it’s exactly what you want.

Exactly what you need.

You fire up the mic and begin listing tunes on your laptop. Ambient stuff, designed to help the residents concentrate. Help them focus.

Personally, you find it creepy. But it’s not for you.

It’s for them: your neighbours who you never see.

“Evening all,” you say into the mic. “Jen here, ready to supply you with another night’s worth of good music and mental stimulation. Remember, we don’t take requests, but then again, you don’t need to ask.”

You fire up the first song. It sounds like air ran through a simulation.

Then you check your email for the first brainteaser.

You don’t quite understand how it works, or why you need to be involved, but you don’t question it. It’s not for you. Instead, you just forward it to the email block the Top Floor provided you with, and wait for the answers to come in.

If anything, they make for fascinating reading.

The first one comes through.

YOU ARE AT A CONCERT. THE MAN ON STAGE PLAYS A BLUE GUITAR. YOU HAVE A SMALL GUN. WHAT COLOUR IS THE SKY?

You forward it on, and look forward to the results.

The clock says an hour has passed. You barely noticed. The first answers have come through. No email has a name, just a number.

3 – CONCAVE

16 – VISCERAL

24 – PINE

It makes no sense to you.

It’s not supposed to.

You just play the tunes, and send the riddles.

*

You wake up. You don’t know when you fell asleep. Six hours have passed. This has happened before. No drama. You check your emails. More answers.

7 – BARREN

44 – CRYSTAL

Then one catches your eye.

It’s from 18.

It is not an answer to the riddle. It’s a direct email.

To you.

You didn’t think they could do that.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

It doesn’t make sense.

You forward it to the Top Floor.

The email bounces back.

You email to Maintenance.

The email bounces back.

You email it to the residents.

It sends.

The hum of your apartment’s lights seems to get louder. The light gets brighter. You begin to have a headache. You go to step outside.

The door is locked.

You regret not having any windows to open.

The tunes begin to end. You get on the mic.

“That was Arcadia In Retrograde. Up next, Irrago.”

You’ve no idea what these words mean.

They’re not for you.

Another email from 18.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

You reply.

RIDDLES ARE ONLY TO BE SENT BY MYSELF.

They reply.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

They reply again.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

And again.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

Again.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

Again.

FOLLOW

Again.

FOLLOW

Again.

NEON MONKEY

NEON MONKEY

NEON MONKEY

You wake up.

You can smell burning.

The clock shows no time has passed.

You summarise that you must have slept for a full day.

The door is no longer locked. You open it, and look down the halls.

They never seem to end. Bright white. Infinite.

You can still smell burning.

You head toward the front door. It isn’t there anymore.

The CCTV camera whirrs and looks at you.

HI JEN.

HEY JEN.

HI JEN.

HELP JEN.

You look up.

The camera stares back.

A blast of static hurts your ears.

You wake up.

A bad dream, that was all.

The smell of burning has gone.

Fresh food is on your table. Fruit. Vegetables. Bread. Water.

You prepare a meal, and try to relax.

The current song ends.

“Another soothing piece of music for you there, folks. Now, let’s try something a bit different.”

You press a button.

The laptop screams back at you.

It locks up. It doesn’t respond to your commands. You panic, try shutting it down.

A ping signals a new email.

18.

FOLLOW THE NEON MONKEY.

You wake up.

You’re in a bed. It’s soft, comfortable. The room is a fiesta of hues and images. Posters of rock stars. Movies you love.

The burger costume hangs fresh on a chair.

From behind the door, you hear a voice. Your mother’s voice.

WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR BREAKFAST?

You go to answer, but nothing comes out.

You try again. Silence.

You take a deep breath. You get ready to scream.

You produce nothing but static.

NOT A PROBLEM. I’LL MAKE IT NOW.

Holding your hand over your mouth, your eyes casually scan the room.

On a chair, is a stuffed animal.

Brightly coloured.

A neon monkey.

You wake up. You’re incredibly groggy. You look up and see that your clock has been removed from the wall. In fact, everything has been removed from the room. It’s empty, with only the hum of the lights remaining.

Your clothes feel wrong, but you don’t know why. They feel like paper. Too crisp, little flexibility.

You try the door. It opens.

Looking down the hall, you see nothing but white walls lit by a chorus of fluorescent tubes.

You are not in your apartment.

You’ve been moved.

You leave the room and walk down the corridor.

There are numbers on the walls but no doors. The numbers aren’t consecutive either. They are random, out of place. Some are made of iron and clumsily attached to the wall, some are merely drawn.

You realise you’ve been walking down the corridor longer than it is possible.

You begin to run. Nothing changes. The numbers remain erratic either side of you. You fall to the floor, panting, sweat congealing on your brow.

You close your eyes.

You don’t wake up.

You remain in the corridor.

A noise trickles down from a room to your right. You run to it, trying to remain calm but betrayed by quick breaths and a thumping body.

You feel sick as you see the number on the wall.

18.

You knock on the wall.

It opens.

The room is empty. You step inside. It looks familiar, comforting. You see a laptop with a multitude of music lined up, a bed messily made.

On the wall, the clock tells you the time. You are unable to comprehend it.

You get into the bed, and you sleep. You smell the mouldy damp of the tattered costume in the corner. The lights hum out of existence.

Before you drift, you hear a voice.

“Another relaxing song for you there. Now, why not let your soul peter away with the help of Arable Diometrics.”

You smile.

You like that band.

They sound like static.

*

Oli Jacobs is a hairy man from the wilds of Southampton, who is best known for his horror Wilthaven, which was an award-winning finalist in the Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award 2021. When not writing, he dwells in existential dread.


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