Here’s an excerpt from a story I’m working on. I wanted to share a bit in honor of Halloween.
The kids stayed with their dad on the weekends, allowing mom to attend her education classes to finish up her master’s degree. Kate thought it was a ploy for normalcy. Look at how happy everyone could be. Mom finishing her education, dad spending time with his beautiful two girls. Well, Kate never fell for it and spent the first two hours with her father sulking, texting her friends, and moaning about feeling sick.
“I can’t have chili,” she said to Kyle Winston, her father. He needed a shave, a five o’clock shadow dusting his jowls. Kate thought it looked sexy on anyone but her father.
“But I made it. It’s good stuff. It’ll burn a hole in your stomach.”
“And this is a selling point? Don’t you just have salad or something?” Kate knew she was being difficult, her father feeling the weight of her every word.
Faye, three years younger than Kate at age 11, dug in without any hand-holding, trying to save face for her sister. Faye did a lot of that; she was the cheerful, hopeful daughter.
“This recipe is in my family,” Kyle said. “Been around for hundreds of years.” He ate a bite.
The kitchen was spotless, as Kyle prepared eagerly for their weekend, checking off his list as he got things done. The counter removed of the usual clutter was now smeared with chunks of meat and beans dripping in sauce. Faye was incapable of keeping the area tidy. It usually brought Kyle back to reality; his expectations changed, but not necessarily diminished.
“C’mon. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” he said, dipping his spoon into his bowl.
“If it’s been around for a hundred years, why is it that we’re trying it now ? Hmm?” Kate stared at her bowl.
“We’re all together, Kate. Let’s enjoy it.”
He wasn’t going to let Kate flee upstairs to her room. She was pushing and she knew it. Kyle’s anger simmered under a tight lid. It was much too early in the evening for this, and his ex-wife Andrea couldn’t be relied upon for backup. Kyle paced himself for getting along with his fiery daughter, hot as lava and known to shoot mean, stabbing retorts meant to cause harm and hurt. She pelted play bullets at him with her invisible toy gun. It was the only way to envision it, a game, innocent and fleeting. Kyle was not immune and as much as he tried to appear strong and steely, he felt fragile in his daughter’s presence. When he should be strong, he felt only weak, perhaps a reminder of his failings with Andrea. He pulled himself together and tried to get back on track for a delightful evening. First dinner, chili served with tortilla chips, followed by a movie of his kids’ choice, then a cuddle, even a story for Faye if she wanted, and lights out. Sleep. He could go to sleep this instant.
“C’mon, Kate. It’s really good,” Faye looked like she meant it, licking her lips.
It was enough to restore faith in Kyle. Faye, the fluttering butterfly, swayed her sister into a bite. The two of them stared at each other while they each spooned a mouthful. Quiet, followed by manic fanning with their hands at their mouths, and gulps of whatever drink was nearby.
“Milk! I need milk,” Kate said.
Kyle jumped at her request to avoid what could be another near disaster. Things were going swimmingly well with Kate actually eating a dinner that he had made, and not without thoughtful deliberation and planning. He believed in his award-winning family chili recipe. His daughters’ approval of his chili was akin to his validation as a father, as silly as it sounded to him. He poured two generous glasses of milk, pondering over the amount of chili powder he added. The girls exploded with laughter, spitting out their milk on their dad’s newly cleaned floor.
“Oh, guys,” Kyle stammered. More laughing and then a knock at the door. It was loud, loud enough to quell the uproarious mood like a stun gun.
Kyle put a towel to the floor just then, mopping it with his foot.
“You mind seeing who that is, Kate?”
Kate heard two knocks while spilling milk in the kitchen; another as she journeyed through the living room to the foyer entrance. A louder knock as she stood smoothing her hair before she opened the door, not that she was expecting anyone. Still her heart beat a little faster half-heartedly hoping it was her boyfriend Jake knowing full well he wouldn’t set foot here. He was banned from Friday movie night for no good reason.
She flipped on the light outside and opened the door to no one.
“Hello,” she stepped outside. “Hello,” she sang. “Anybody.” A chill rippled through her as leaves rustled in the street, the air crisp with a slight bite.
“Okay, I’m leaving now. You lost your chance.”
“Who was it?” Kyle came up behind her causing Kate to jump.
“Oh,” she caught her breath. “No one. It was no one.”
“Really? Odd. I’m pretty sure that was a solid knock at the door.”
“I know. I heard it, too.”
“Probably just a kid with nothing better to do. Let’s watch that movie.” Kyle always had a logical explanation for everything.
After gathering blankets and popcorn, they settled in to watch a light comedy that no one cared about and the only movie they could agree on.
“And no phone. This is family time,” Kyle said.
Kate spooked easily, but usually she wrestled out of it quickly. Kyle couldn’t put his finger on it, but she seemed somewhere else. Lost in boy trouble, thinking about what to wear? Kyle had no idea what she thought about and got no answers if he asked. He drifted while he tried to focus on the movie. His attempt at mind-numbing escapism failed him.
Ten minutes into their movie In a moment of fitful laughter, another knock at the door.
“Pause it,” Kate said. “I heard the door.”
“I didn’t hear the door,” Faye said.
“Oh, yeah. That was a knock,” but Kate wasn’t going to get up this time.
They turned down the television, in a room adjacent to the front door and within easy audible distance. Kyle was at the door before Kate could complete her sentence. He walked outside to a normal scene of lit windows and a quiet street, and looked in the hedges for movement, a cat perhaps, not that a cat could knock at a door.
“Maybe it’s one of those ding-dong ditch games,” Kyle locked the door, and turned off the porch light.
“Isn’t that usually with a door bell?” Kate sighed.
“Maybe they just couldn’t locate it,” Kyle returned to his chair. “I’m not sure I heard anything, honey,” Kyle said to her, trying to distill her fear with no effect.
Just as Kyle sat down.
A little more solid this time with what sounded like a heavy-handed fist. Faye sat more upright on the couch.
“Hear that?” Kate pleaded, “Now do you believe me?”
“Okay, I heard that,” Kyle said. “But we don’t have to answer it. We’re watching a movie.”
“A pathetic movie. Let’s watch something else. We gave it twenty minutes.” Faye didn’t like most movies unless they were animated with fairy princesses.
Kate lifted her phone beside her from the end table with clandestine grace, turning her audio to mute, and texted the boyfriend who mysteriously disappeared from her life every weekend. Between scenes of awkward sexual content well over the appropriate age for the youngest audience member in the room, she and her boyfriend texted:
Kate: Did you knock on our door? Freaked out. Is it you? Did you come by?
Jake: No. Wasn’t me. Sitting on my ass playing Borderlands.
Kate: I was hoping it was you.
Jake: Want me to stop by?
Kyle looked at her and then at her phone, his disapproval on proud display.
“What? I’m not at school,” she said. “I’m not breaking any rules.”
“Well, if it was your mother, that would be okay.”
“Okay then, I’m texting Mom.”
One more misstep and he would swipe the phone from her death grip.
But then, another knock.
It started slow like a drumroll, increasing in speed and sound, frenzied but altogether rhythmic, like a war dance. Kyle had never heard such a thing, only that he felt caught up in it, hearing the pulse and anticipating the next beat. He wanted to make a mad rush for the door, but just stared at it, held in a trance.
The drumming faded, following by light tapping of fingertips, beating 1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Kyle stared while his daughters whirled around him, “Answer it, dad. Answer it. Obviously someone is out there.” She hoped it was Jake. He was capable of surprising her. Didn’t he hear the despair in her last text?
The clicking was followed by a thudding, like a bird who lost its way flying into a window.
“What is it? It needs our help,” Faye inched closed to the door.