When you come home to find a bunch of blood drips on the stairwell landing off the apartment lobby, that’s one of those times.
Fortunately, it turned out it was just one of my neighbors who’d gotten a very bad cut and not Jeffrey Dahmer or anything. But man, that was a pretty fair amount of pretty thick blood. The effect was definitely bloodcurdling, but I did manage to overcome my impulse to go huddle in my apartment behind a locked door, enough to do something moderately sensible about it.
There’s this really weird inertia that hits at times like that, part of you that wants to assume that even though it does look really horrible, obviously there must be a logical explanation which means that you should go home and do nothing and not poke your nose into other people’s business. But it’s not a very trustworthy feeling. It’s the kind of feeling that leaves people to die. It is lying to you, and you have to do something else than whatever it’s telling you.
On the other hand, obviously you don’t want to do anything stupid that will get yourself killed or produce other Very Bad Results. In retrospect, going straight on through the door to see what was going on with the blood was probably not the brightest thing to do, if there really had been a dead body or a live murderer around (although I didn’t hear or sense anybody around, and in fact nobody was). I didn’t touch the dried blood, but why did I even touch the doorknob? Stupid! I do read mysteries, I did apply certain factoids, so why didn’t I think of the most routine and well-known things?
I acted like the main character in a Lifetime movie, which is a depressing realization. But at that point, I really wasn’t thinking. It was the opposite of dread — curiosity without any sense whatsoever. I guess a lot of people tend to pogo from one feeling to another in emergencies, depending on what kind of adrenaline rush they get first; but I know I do.
The thing I did which was probably neither smart nor stupid, but just human nature, was that I ended up knocking on one of the door of one of the neighbor ladies who works in the hospital, to tell her what I’d just seen. It turned out that she’d just seen it when she came home from work, clearly identified it as being really blood in quantity, but hadn’t done anything about it. I was glad to have it confirmed that it wasn’t just my imagination, and she was glad to have it confirmed that she should call somebody about it. Again, I suppose that if a murderer had been about, this confab wouldn’t have been smart; but I think both of us are just so used to the comings and goings in our building that we could tell nobody was lurking, unless behind closed doors.
But it’s so weird that I would distrust my eyes, and that she would take so long to call even the building person, much less the local police. You read about how people hesitate to step forward, call 911, etc., but it’s so weird to have it happen to you. It’s not even cowardice. It’s a sort of dread of tipping the world into something horrible or of doing the wrong thing, when (from a reasoned point of view) whatever bad is going to happen has already happened and you might as well get on with it.
However, initially I was just going to let my neighbor call the police (since she had somewhat more emergency-stuff credentials than me). But then I got (stupidly) curious and (guiltily) worried if there really was somebody hanging around hurt. (We once had a lady die in our hall with a heart attack, and I don’t want that ever to happen again.)
So I got the dubiously bright idea of searching around the building. Notionally I was going to go see our building person and let them know, but I totally forgot about that part and just ended up looking to see if there were more blood spatters on other parts of the stairway and hall. As it happened, there was — in fact, right next door to the neighbor lady — and I’ve got no idea how I didn’t see it when I first went back to my apartment. (Surprise and oncoming dread makes you stupid, I guess, and I was mostly just looking to see if anybody else was traveling the halls.) So yeah, it turned out that was the guy who’d gotten hurt, and the police came and helped him out.
But if it had been somebody around with bad intentions, that kind of running around the place without backup or a real weapon would have been a Very Bad Idea. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. I just did it, and that was really stupid again.
Anyway, it’s all over now and cleaned up, and I guess the gentleman had some attention from the police medic person. But yeah, there’s definitely a reason that I never wanted any kind of “exciting” career. I’m sensible enough if you give me some time and space to be sensible in. But I’m not the sort of person who thinks fast in a useful way. I’m more of an Epimetheus sort of person. Feel free to take warning from all these afterthoughts of mine.
I’m going to bed now with some hot milk. I don’t really feel like sleeping, but there’s no sense sitting around brooding and jumpy all at once, when I have to get up early in the morning. And I definitely checked my door locks.
UPDATE: Here’s a happy-ending story that’s also about insufficient alarmism countered by consulting the group. Human nature is weird.