A Wild Cackling

Previous parts of the story are here:

Knock Knock
Who’s There?
Knock it off
Clang Clang

As always, thanks for reading. Please excuse any typos. This part will close Chapter 1.

***********************************

There was no choice but to participate in this charade. Kate had grown accustomed to superficial band aids, the family movie night required suffering through a movie no one really wanted to watch, but the scales had been tipped here. Negotiation suspended indefinitely.

The movie played its opening credits. It was Caddyshack, a movie introduced by their father yeas ago, one of his favorites. At least it was a comedy, although no one was in the mood to laugh. Kate and Faye sat bunched in the corner of the couch, while their father sat in his easy chair. For a brief moment, all appearances suggested this set-up might hold true.

“Finally, some peace. This is going to be good,” Kyle said, as if he never seen it before. His head sunk into the head rest; in a glided puppeteer motion, he turned his head towards Kate.

Kate nodded barely holding his gaze, while her sister squeezed her hand underneath a blanket. It would appear an ordinary scene to an uninformed guest, but something was off with her dad. She studied his reddened face, and sweaty armpits. He had taken off his sweater he wore earlier, and now lounged in a ragged, white undershirt. And he was happy, too happy. He couldn’t wipe that giddy grin of his face, like he just took a look up a hottie’s dress and it was his little secret.

The movie began ordinarily enough. Even Kate caught her breath for a moment, laughing at scenes her father insisted were classic.

“They don’t make movies like this anymore,” Kyle said to the television. He then erupted in hysterical laughing, crunching over in his seat and holding his belly. And then he would have fluid moments of attempted coherent conversation. “We should take up golf. What do you kids think?”

“Golf could be fun…I suppose,” Kate said, stuttering. Her mouth felt full of cotton.

But Kyle didn’t hear her,  because he wasn’t listening, pounding the coffee table as he laughed, making the girls jump with each hand stomping. The velocity and fervor increased, until he wheezed, letting his head hang so that all you could see was the top of his head. He quieted, the whole room silent. Even the movie fell to a whisper. His head bobbled, and he directed all his energy at the floor. Kate stirred, squeezing her sister’s hand. The idea of a phone emerged at that moment. She should call. Someone. She felt helpless to move, afraid to put her feet on the floor.

Kyle lifted his head, laughed, bursting uncontrollably. No funny scene, no Rodney Dangerfield one-liner. No excuse for a laugh of any sort. But a laugh that made Kate’s insides twist inside out. She thought she might vomit, until she looked at her sister’s pale complexion. His raucous cackling intermingled with short grunting noises that began to sound like code.

Wild cackling, grunt, grunt, grunt.  Silence. This pattern held for whole minutes with Kyle in a trance, his beady eyes his most prominent feature. Faye pointed to their father’s pants lying in a heap in the corner. Kate nodded, and slipped off the couch in a crouched position, and made her way towards the corner on her hands and knees, like a wild animal evading capture, except there was no tall grass, nothing to hide behind.

Kyle stomped on the floor in perfect sync with a knock at the door. A fresh, crisp knock. With a second in between, two knocks, with Kyle thumping the coffee table two times. He averted his gaze to the TV, and laughed and grunted at the movie. Three knocks now at the door matching Kyle’s rhythm. Three pounds on the coffee table. He only looked at the television as if unaware that he pounded on anything at all. The knocks appeared to come every second on the clock. Five seconds, five knocks. Six seconds, six knocks. Ten seconds, ten knocks echoing through the house.

The clock that hung on the wall read 11:55 pm, marking the approaching midnight hour. Faye crept over to find Kate, tossing through her father’s clothes, feeling around in his pockets, and felt the rectangular shape she sought. His phone, still operative.

The incessant beating rang in her ears, as Kate attempted a text to her boyfriend that read:

Pick us up. NOW!!!!

The reply came swiftly:

KNOCK. KNOCK

Shaking, the phone fell out of her hands, and she choked on her labored breathing. Faye crawled up next to her, shaking her head frantically, a mad dance to the steady hum of knocking that wouldn’t let up. Kate glanced at the clock and saw the moving hand hit thirty seconds.

The knocks increasing in tempo to keep up with the seconds were now a non-stop crescendo of sound, a wall of sound, building and swelling. The individual knocks no longer audible. The door looked to be breathing; a heavy exhaling, ready to burst. Kyle banged on every object he could get his hands on, the lamp, the couch, the floor, the easy chair, as if drumming on bongo furniture, all in fun, all with a grin plastered on his face and his eyes boundless, dark pools again.

The wall of sound engulfed them as they heard thudding on the windows, surrounding them, drowning their screams, their throats course and raw. Their next round of screaming was reduced to a thin, hoarse cry, no one could hear.

They prepared for the worst, as the buildup increased at such a level, the whole house might explode in a burst of flames. They could hardly move, the sound deafening, piercing, and only getting louder and louder.

Kate questioned herself whether or not she heard it, or was it reverberating in her ears instead. She squatted to the ground, encircled her arms around her head, and shriveled tight into a ball. As the clock of the moving hand approached the fifty-second mark, they awaited the last seconds crouched together in the corner, their arms wrapped around each other in an interlocking embrace, burying their heads into their chests.

The pounding surrounded them and it felt like it was closing in on them. The sound tighter, chipping, narrower. A pressure held them, contained them. The knocking, an endless cycle that now lacked structure; a deafening sound that could swallow them whole.

The clock hit midnight, and Kyle raced to the door like he was welcoming an old friend, with no acknowledgement of his daughters shivering in the corner. Kyle flew open the door. No one was there, not visibly, but Kyle felt a solidness in front of him. He took one step back, and a cold air pushed him into the house smack into the wall, with the door slamming behind him. He felt his head slam into the wall, and his body slid down in his aftermath; he fell unconscious, his head heavy, nodding against his chest.

“Dad,” his girls rushed to him, and then stepped back as they approached closer.

 Kate knelt to hold his hand, “Dad, Dad. Can you hear me?” She squeezed his hand and got nothing back, then brushed his chin, and lifted his head. His eyelids flitted, shifting between open and closed.

“Talk to me?” She slapped him on the face. Faye bounced on her tip toes behind her.

 Kate found herself suddenly in the parental role, an unwilling participant, trying to rise above it all but just as easily sinking beside her sister a twisted ball of nerves.

“Why isn’t he talking, Faye? Help me.”

With tears streaming down her face, she replied, “He’ll be okay, Kate. He just hit his head.” Faye, the eternal optimist, actually gave Kate a much needed boost.

A gale force wind encircled them and drew them together, but there was no air and they could not bust free from it. A wave of air rippled through the drapes like keys on a piano, and then with one thrust, burst into the chandelier, forcing it to swing to and fro, an invisible trapeze act.

“Did you see that?” Kate asked.

“Uh huh,” Faye looked almost catatonic. They both knew it wasn’t the wind, and the windows were shut.

The girls clutched their hands together, collectively holding their breath. The chandelier stopped swaying; their father moaned at their feet.

“Dad.” Kate nudged him. “Go get a wet rag, Faye. He’s burning up.”

“I’m too scared,” she said.

“Just do it. Dad needs our help.” Faye knees shook unwilling to move, her body sinking in a quicksand of despair.

Kate also too scared to move, collapsed over her father. Now more forcefully, she slapped her father on the face. “Wake up, wake up. We need you, daddy. Now.” The urge to flee the scene pulled at her with equal force. The door in front of her with no one there to stop her. She could take Faye, run to a neighbor, or just run. Run.

In the adjoining room, they heard a thumping on the slide glass door, repeatedly. Slam, slam, as if someone were throwing himself into the window. It was just enough to keep them anchored by their dad.

Then all was quiet. Something was yanking at them, yanking at the seams, the fabric of their clothes, the angles of the walls seemed to breathe, in and out, again, and again, until an explosive thudding, this time inside the walls, as if someone were trapped inside willing a release, stomping and banging, louder and louder still; Kate and Faye could do nothing but cover their ears. Like a drill it exploded inside Kate’s head. Faye blocked it out of her head by screaming; she couldn’t stop. This did nothing to alert their father, passed out and unresponsive.

In an explosive burst, Kyle rose to his feet, grabbed Kate by the temples, suspending her a few feet off the ground. He slammed her against the wall. Faye’s screaming accompanied his one-man act execution. Kyle pounded her head against the wall, harder the second time, and held her jaw.

“Daddy. Stop,” Kate whispered, her eyes rolling up into her head.

Kyle eye’s quickly gained focus, like a dull blade sharpening, and he released Kate, her legs breaking the fall, her head banging the floor on impact with a jolt that pierced her skull.

Kate didn’t know how long she’d been out when she came to. Faye lay beside her with tears streaming down her face. Kate bolted from her horizontal position which Faye mirrored.

“Listen,” Kate whispered.

“What?” Faye asked, although she sounded miles away.

With another light tapping on the door, she realized they had drifted off.

“Kate. It’s me, Jake. Are you all right?”

She gasped, opening the door to him and falling into an embrace.

“I didn’t hear from you, so I thought I’d drop by. What’s wrong?” eyeing her swollen, red face. “You guys have a fight?”

“Take me out of here,” she said to Jake. “C’mon. Faye, we’re taking a ride.”

They left with no interference out the front door. A steady hammering came from the garage, a piercing in her ear like fingernails on a chalkboard, except she felt it in her gut. She assumed it was her father, but she really didn’t want to know.

They slipped out the front door, piled into his pickup without speaking. Faye clutched Kate’s hand, her face still wet from tears. Piled together in the front seat felt oddly comforting. Away from the house, she could feel the frantic pace of her heart beating, and a dull clattering inside her head.

photo credit: chatblanc1 via photopin cc

Advertisements

Clang Clang

If you would like to read the previous parts to this story, here they are:

Part 1: Knock Knock
Part 2: Who’s There?
Part 3: Knock it off

As always, thanks for reading!

*************************************

“Dad is acting funny,” Faye said, sniffling. Must be the dust in the room. Kate knew she wasn’t crying. “Is it his medication again? You know, acting up?’

“The antidepressants? Hmm. Could be.” Kate could pretend with the best of them, especially if it meant protecting her sister.

“You could check.”

Kate nodded.

They both wanted logic to swing in their direction, but rummaging in dad’s medicine cabinet was a possibility so remote, Kate had no words. Not even on a good day would Kate stake a claim in any area of the house that was clearly labeled dad’s, like his bedroom. The garage was also off-limits, not that Kate ever had a need to go in there. Talk of antidepressants was welcome conversation, comforting even. They dare not mention the knocking lest it start the whole ordeal again. The risk was too great. They tried to ignore it, swallow it whole, and spit it out, undigested. But it gnawed at them in the pits of their stomach like tiny beasts with ruptured claws, tearing away at their insides.

Their breathing slowed in an effort to recoup from the rush of adrenaline, their body temperature chilling at an alarming rate. Faye searched her closet for sweaters, while Kate had her eye on the sweating beads on the window. She opened the window to look at the drop, a flow of warm air brushing past her face. The thick wisteria branch could hold Faye, she thought, as she stared at it, but she might need to be there to catch her.

“I have a friend on medication,” Faye said, sitting on her purple, fairy comforter, snuggling with a stuffed animal. “She wants to be off of it,” she nodded, scooting in closer into corner of the wall. Faye rambled while Kate fretted over a spotty plan.

She held Faye’s hands, “Do you think you can slide down that branch on the side of the house?”

“Out there?” Faye pointed to the window, and squeezed her eyes shut. “That’s high, Kate. Five stories high.”

“It’s two.”

“Two, whatever.”

“Faye, look at me. You can do this. I’m not asking you to jump. Listen.”

“What about the window downstairs? Did it open?” Faye spoke to Kate, inching further into the corner.

“I don’t know. Never got there.” She pulled Faye over to window, not bothering to explain her run-in with their dad. Not now. She opened the window, pushed out the screen, which dropped ruthlessly, bouncing off the concrete on its arrival. Faye stared at Kate wide-eyed and gasped.

“We don’t have a lot of options, Faye,” she said, pressing into her side. “I know you can do this.”

“You go, first.”

“That branch won’t hold me.”

“Just jump. It’s only two stories.” Confusion stirred in her eyes. “Let’s talk to dad.”

Kate thought she detected frost in the corner of the window. “I just want to get the hell out of here. We can do this, Faye.”

Beyond their door, they heard a muted pounding.

Clang, clang, clang, clang.

(Pause.)

Bam, Bam.

Kate and Faye exchanged a glance, shivering.

“It’s not outside,” Kate whispered. “It’s in our house. I can’t tell where.”

It could be in the basement, except they didn’t have one. It sounded like it could be under water or behind walls, layers of them. It had a familiar tone, like an instrument badly tuned. After a louder burst, Kate could hear the clanging ring, ring, ringing. A chiming, delicate enough, but with a rough edge. Where had she heard it before? It had to be the garage. She envisioned her dad with his tools. A hammer.

Hammering, hammering…like a nail. Setting it in the wall, and then with a bit more punch, bam, bam into the wall. But it wasn’t a wall, it was steel.

The banging stopped as suddenly as it began. Faye shrugged her shoulders with a look of fresh innocence that sparked hope inside of Kate. I will take care of her, no matter what, she thought. The knocking was not at the front door, but it had been grating nonetheless. They collapsed in the middle of the floor exhausted. Their plan full of loose ends; their dad a mystery, no phone, no jumping.

They rested until they could hear themselves breathe again. But only for seconds. A tide rolled in, crashing beneath them with tsunami strength, tossing them around the room like toys in a Cracker Jack box. The bed popped off the floor and slid toward them, wedging them against the dresser. A picture crashed to the floor, spraying glass inches from their faces.

“Earthquake!” Faye screamed. “It’s got to be.” Living in Southern California, it wasn’t out of the question, but neither of them had felt such a strong tremor before.

“Maybe. Maybe. Are you okay?” Kate asked, lying almost on top of Faye, sloping at a downward angle.

“I want out of here, Kate.”

A light tapping at Faye’s bedroom door and they both jumped, already rattled enough.

“Girls.” It was their dad. He knocked again lightly.

Kate caught her breath. “Yes.”

“Girls. Why don’t we watch the rest of that movie.”

Kate looked at Faye stunned, shrugging her shoulders, while Faye shook her head “no, no, no.”

“We’re a little tired. I think we’re just going to bed.”

“Kate, you know how important our movie night is,” Kyle said.

Kate fell silent, hoping he’d go away, but she heard his labored breathing through the door.

“I’ll be waiting downstairs,” he said.

Kate thought she heard whistling.

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

Knock it off

The first two parts are here:

Part 1: Knock Knock? 
Part 2: Who’s There?

*************************************************

What do you mean it’s a dead-end?” cried her sister, who now more than ever wanted an exit when just seconds ago her life depended upon staying put.

“I mean it won’t open,” Kate said, standing up. She tried it again now that she was more composed, that lapse into irrational fear, she told herself, would only scare her sister into frozen-solid state with all forward movement suspended indefinitely. She had seen it once before at Faye’s piano recital. She had practiced the piece non-stop until everyone in the household hummed the tune subconsciously. Really, it held the family unit in one piece, the glue so to speak, however temporary it felt. There was no back-up, and they rallied behind Faye so that it became too much pressure. She had called it stage fright, but Kate knew better. Faye was as tough as nails usually; she just had a soft spot for practicality, for common sense, and that was fuck all right now. Kate could only stare at the solid oak door before her.

“Let’s check the other door. A window?” Faye looked up to her.

“Okay,” said Kate, out of breath for some reason. Being near the door had drained her energy, and she dragged behind Faye.

Buzzing ahead, Faye ran smack into their father, who seized her shoulders and squeezed at them. “Stop. Not so fast.” One look into his piercing slits of eyes, and Faye ran up the stairs to her bedroom.

“Faye, stop,” Kate called after her, while Kyle collapsed his chin on his chest, silent. The plan to investigate another outlet was now up to Kate, who shifted unsteadily on her feet, weaving around her father. He gazed up at her when she bumped him. A few more steps, and it occurred to her that he blocked her at every turn, seemingly preceding her actions, a foreshadowing of sorts.

Had she stopped moving, would everything come to a screeching halt? Her mind felt pinned against the wall, and her body shuddered under cold, iron weight, pressing, suffocating, as her legs felt ready to buckle under her.

And then there it was. Their eyes deadlocked. She stared into two dark liquid voids and all she wanted was to break free from him. With only inches between them, she jumped into a run, hoping it was enough to outpace him. astounded she needed to at all. With the easiest route up the stairs, she knocked at Faye’s closed bedroom door. fooling herself she could comfort her. The door or window would have to wait, and her phone was downstairs, too. Somewhere.

“It’s Kate. Open up, Faye.”

“Knock it off,” Faye said, biting her lip. “Don’t knock.”

“Sorry.” Kate gasped, and held her sister tight. “We’ll be okay,” she said, kissing the top of her head.

“The knocking stopped,” Faye offered. “Right? I don’t hear it.”

True, it had stopped, but something was askew. Kate looked up into the corner of the ceiling where it was cracked and warped with water damage. Askew, and not air tight.

photo credit: JonathanCohen via photopin cc

Who’s There?

This is a bit rough, but here is a bit more of “Knock Knock.” I will take the rest of the month to finish this. It may be novella length possibly. 

Thanks so much reading. It means the world to me!

If you like to read the first part, here it is: Knock Knock.

****************************************

Kate rushed towards the door with her dad’s arm caught in her midsection. Her arms flailed like she was singing a hallelujah chorus, pushing, pushing, and then she surrendered to her knees.

 “Just answer it. God, he’s probably gone by now,” said Kate, hastily.

 “Who? Who’s gone?”

 “I don’t know! Whoever.” She threw open the door. Again the familiar absence like an empty seat to unpopular event. The storm, or whatever it was, had rolled by.

Disappointment set it and all three hobbled back to their seats before the large-screen TV, stilled to a couple ready to embrace or ensnare, an interpretation up for grabs. Kate’s mood hungered for an embrace, while Kyle was punching at the bit. Faye un-paused the movie to a couple embracing followed the woman delivering a fierce slap to the guy’s face.

Kate sighed.

A knock. Another knock.

“Not again.” Faye shivered.

All eyes on the door, twitching uncomfortably in their seats. Kyle grabbed a bat out of the closet before looking in the peep-hole. He opened the door to his neighbor Roy, a likeable fellow who usually minded his own business, sipping a coke.

“Hey, there,” he said, swallowing again. “Just wanted to let you know, I’m having some guys over tomorrow to do some work on a fence.”

Faye and Kate wandered to the door to get a glimpse of him and waved politely, content this was a familiar person at their doorstep, even though they rarely saw him. They resumed their TV watching positions on the couch.

“Oh, sure,” Kyle said. It was difficult to look past him without staring at his wide chest. “You haven’t been over before, have you? Uh, tonight,, I mean…earlier?”

“Me? No,” Roy shook his head. “Just got home, in fact,” he said, feeling the need to prove his innocence.

With the momentum of movie-watching suspended, Faye looked for more snacks in the kitchen, while Kate did what she had been aching to do all night, call her boyfriend.

She dialed. “Hi,” Kate said, breathlessly. Faye always knew she was talking to her boyfriend, Jake. “Jake the Rake,” Faye called him, because it annoyed the hell out of her sister.

Faye mouthed to her, “The Rake.”

Kate waved her hand away at Faye, who sat the kitchen table eating a cookie with milk, eyes milling about the room. A sudden flicker outside held her gaze steady, and there in the window in the darkness was a floating head, his eyes aglow and his mouth upturned in an ever-widening grimace.

Screaming, Faye dropped her milk, the glass crashing, splashing white liquid all over the floor.

“What happened Faye?” Kyle ducked his head in the kitchen. “What is it with the milk tonight, huh? You guys can’t keep this stuff in the glass.”

“It was a head!’ Faye paralyzed with fear, pointed out the window.

“Huh?” Kyle wandered over to the closet to return the baseball bat, intent on his next task of cleaning the kitchen floor.

“Oh, Faye. What have you done now?” Kate sauntered into the kitchen, glowing from her recent exchange with Jake. “Oh, honey,” she started mopping up the mess with a nearby dish towel.

Meanwhile Faye’s skin resembled a pasty, milky white, stuttering and pointing at the window while her sister had only Jake on the brain, replaying their conversation in her mind. She had mentioned the knocking to Jake, but they had quickly re-steered the conversation to tomorrow’s plans.

“Look, look, look,” she whispered, barely audible.

“C’mon. Let’s just watch the movie. And no more milk for you, young lady,” Kyle said. He patted her on the head.

Faye clutched her dad’s hand, spooked. She knew what she saw, and it’s not like you saw a floating head everyday. It had a mealy quality with a cut down one cheek, and it smiled at her. Removing herself from the kitchen, she temporarily erased the moment from her mind, craving solace in the blankets of the couch. It was her wild imagination at work, her dad always told her. She threw the blankets over her head.

“Pass me that pop corn will you?” Faye said, peeking from under her blanket.

“All out,” her sister teased. “Looks like you ate it all.”

They rejected the idea of getting up, and sat there, popcorn-less, and the possibility of a movie an unending task with little reward.

“It was just Roy at the door, kids,” Kyle announced, ruffling the blanket on Faye’s head. “He’s a nice guy.”

Indeed, Roy’s appearance marked an end to the door knocking. A human had appeared on the other side. The next time someone knocked, another one would take his place. Or, maybe he’d return with more information about the work over at his house. A stony silence fell upon them as if they were now depleted of energy, or maybe it was the chili settling in.

Except for Faye, shaking under her blanket. When once again, they heard a sharp at the door, Faye belted out a sudden scream.

“Faye, no. It’s okay,” Kyle came to her side, and held her. “We’re not even going to answer that. We’re watching a movie, and don’t want to be bothered,” he said to Faye, following by a quick once over of his surroundings. “I have my eye on you,” he said now to the walls. This did nothing to restore Faye’s confidence. Kyle told her to breathe, and breathe again. Faye nodded at him, and forced a smile.

Then like a soft rumbling of horses galloping closer and closer, an incessant pounding ensued.

“We’re not answering it, girls.” Silence. “Do you hear me?” Kyle focused on the door. “We don’t want you here.”

In response, a clicking sound on the other side of the door.

Click, click. Fingernails on glass.

A shuffling of a deck of cards. A bridge of fluttering wings.

Randomizing. Merging. Finalizing.

Rolling over, and a thinning slice, slice, slice.

Rolling, slicing.

Rolling, slicing.

Cut. Cut. With a knife.

Again, each time louder and heavier. Cycle, repeat.

Faster, rolling and slicing, tumbling on top of each other, until it is one massive distorted wall of sound trampling upon the door.

“Make it stop,” Faye said. “Answer it. Open the door.” She covered her ears with hand, and belted a piercing scream.

“No. Ignore it,” Kyle said.

Kate called her boyfriend, but lost her signal. She pounded the phone against her palm and then threw it at the floor.

“A lot of good that’s going to do,” Kyle said, his frustration showing through. But then the knocking stopped. They all looked at each other, and froze, afraid to make the slightest sound lest it start the whole cycle again.

“Maybe it wants us to pound back. Maybe that’s what it wanted,” Kate offered, and as ridiculous as it seemed, no one dared dispute it.

“Shh,” Kyle laid his chest on the floor and looked under the door for shadows.

“What are you doing, daddy?” Faye spoke up, and latched on to Kate’s hand.

“Nothing there.”

“Right. Really? C’mon, dad. How can you say that?” Kate said under breathe, close to blowing her stack. “We all heard it.”

The longer they stood in front of the door, the closer they huddled together, shuffling into a circle.

“Why don’t we just leave the house,” Kate said. “We could call the cops and just, just, we could go. They could bring guns.”

“And shoot at what?” Kyle paused. “And tell them what? An invisible psycho is knocking on our door?” As soon as he said it, he wanted to take it back. He had to be tough for his girls, but what he didn’t tell them was that his body temperature rose the closer he got to the door; startled by droplets of sweat falling to the floor, not knowing what they were at first. So far, his girls had shown no sign of the onslaught of heat. Faye even shivered as if she were cold.

“I want to get the hell out of here, dad,” Kate said. “Get your keys, and let’s go.”

“The floating head,” Faye screamed. “I’m not going.”

“There is no floating head, Faye,” Kate said calmly. “Your mind is playing tricks on you. That’s all.” She pulled Faye into her belly and held her there.

Faye pulled away. “I’m not going out there.”

With all the confusion, no one mentioned that the knocking has ceased. Kyle’s head felt like it was on fire, smoldering with each passing minute of silence. In the kitchen, he searched for his keys, raking the counter clear with his arm. No keys, no wallet. No keys in the living room. He paced madly to the back of the house, tossing clothes and papers in searching, but not really looking at anything. His brain on fire, his mind adrift.

Kate turned off the TV and tried her phone once more, and nothing. “Dammit.”

Her father’s shrieking could be heard from the back of the house, and then it sounded like he must have turned on the shower. Fear gripped her insides, gnawing at her to flee, try the door. Go ahead, try it. Turn the knob, and everything will be fine. It was the ultimate test. If she could open the door with no interference of any kind, then the force had left them. If she heard one more knock it might send her over the edge. She hesitated before reaching out, and reaching again. She had to know.

She clutched the knob, and turned it, and got nothing. She turned it again, and tugged at the door. She slapped the door with her palms until they burned and she fell at the base of the door, tears streaming down her face.

“It’s a dead end.”

 

Knock Knock

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?”

“Sure.”

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.

Knock, knock.

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.

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.

photo credit: stephcarter via photopin cc