It started with three light knocks on our door. Tap, tap, tap.
We seldom had visitors to our small apartment, especially not at this hour. “Are we expecting someone?” my wife asked.
“No,” I said as I got up from our living room couch. I walked a few feet to our front door and looked through the peephole. I saw a child with sad eyes standing in the cold. I swung our door open to greet the little girl. Her hair was a light blonde, lighter than my wife’s shade of dirty blonde anyway. What struck me most were her eyes. There was no color in them. It wasn’t that they were dark brown either. They were dilated pupils with no surrounding iris, two gaping black holes pushing at the edges of the whites in her eyes.
My wife rushed to the door. “Call the police,” she said, “And you come in here now!” She patted the little girl’s back and beckoned her into our apartment.
My wife bombarded her with questions: “Are you lost? Where are your parents? Do you have their phone number? Why are you alone?” The little girl didn’t vocally respond to any of the questions. She either shook her head or nodded it if it was a yes-no question. If not, she would just stare at my wife dumbfoundedly. “Let me get you some hot chocolate.”
My wife scrambled to our little kitchen and boiled some water over the stove. She was orphaned at a young age, so I knew she was trying her best to comfort this lost little girl. I got on the phone with a 911 operator and explained the situation. Despite the late hour, they immediately sent help.
They arrived, asked us a few questions, and quickly escorted the girl out. She turned around and gave an innocent wave goodbye to my wife. “Thank you,” she said, holding her hot chocolate in one hand.
As I closed the door, I could see tears swelling in my wife’s eyes. There was conflict in those tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I feel so sorry for her,” she said, “The foster system sucks.”
“Maybe they’ll find her parents,” I suggested.
My wife just shook her head, and that night I could feel our bed shake to her sobs. I turned over in the sheets and rubbed her back. She was on her side with her back toward me to hide the fact that she was crying, a habit I was familiar with.
Things were better the next night as my wife and I cuddled on our living room couch, but the same three knocks from the night before came again. Tap, tap, tap.
My wife rushed to the door and opened it to see the same little girl. She bent down and wrapped her arms around her, lifting her off the hard cement and onto the soft carpet of our living room. The girl giggled as she was lifted through the air.
I’ll admit I panicked in that moment. A lost child being found at some stranger’s house two nights in a row? I reached for my phone, but my wife whipped her face to me and said, “That can wait ‘til morning.”
“Are you crazy?” The girl frowned at me with her smoldering black eyes of coal. My wife gave her classic death stare that I read as: what did you just say to me? So I threw my hands up and said, “Alright. I’ll call first thing tomorrow.” I grabbed some blankets and a pillow from our closet to set up a makeshift bed on our couch.
My wife made another cup of hot chocolate for the girl. Then, she pulled up a children’s story on her phone and started reading to the girl on the couch. She was delighted and fell asleep quickly. My wife and I tiptoed to our room and slipped into bed as quietly as possible. She scrunched up close to me, and we embraced tightly. Her head rested in the crevice of my neck. “Do you think the police lost the girl?” I asked her.
She stayed still, speaking into my neck, “She said they took her home last night, but she got lost again.”
“Wait, she talked? She hasn’t said a word to me.”
“She told me… when I was… reading…” She started her rhythm of heavy breathing that I heard every night as she slept. Not minding the warmth of our combined body heat, I dozed off soon after.
I awoke early that morning to an empty space in the bed. I stumbled to the kitchen in my usual way, eyes still half asleep, and poured myself some water. My wife was lying on the ground in front of our couch. She slept on her side facing toward the girl as if she had been watching her sleep.
I stepped outside to make a phone call to the police. After finishing the call, I was surprised when I turned around and saw my wife standing in the open doorway. She held the little girl in her arms and sighed at me. “What?” I asked. She walked back into the house and I followed her in. I tried getting her attention, but both of them gave me the cold shoulder until the police showed up. They were frazzled this time, apologizing to us as they tried to beckon the girl to leave with them again.
This time, the girl went kicking and screaming. My wife held her hand over her mouth and cried as she watched the police drag her out of our apartment.
I got home from work that night and received one of the more dreadful greetings I’ve ever received from my wife, “Oh, you’re back,” she said. She wasn’t sad like the night before. She was pissed.
I tried opening conversations with her to no avail. She glued her eyes to the floor or to her phone the entire evening. When bedtime came around, she shooed me into our bedroom while she curled up on the couch.
Like the previous night, I woke up early to an empty space where my wife normally slept. Only now, my wife was standing as a shadowy silhouette at the foot of our bed. I couldn’t quite see her face in the darkness, but I felt the intensity from her eyes pin my shoulders to the bed. “Honey?” I said in a weak and groggy morning voice.
“You let them take her,” she said.
“What?” I sat up sharply, “She’s a lost child. She doesn’t belong with us!”
“You let them take her!” She lowered her hand from behind her back down to her side, and I saw our largest kitchen knife held tightly in her clenched fist. I jolted over in bed and flipped on the light switch. My wife reacted to the light and dropped the knife. Her eyes squinted, and she fluttered them as she does when she wakes up.
“What happened?” She asked as she stood there.
“Careful,” I pointed to the knife on the ground, “Don’t step on it.”
She picked it up in confusion, eyes now wide awake, “Why is this here?”
“You were standing here, pointing a knife at me.”
She burst into tears and slammed her face into our bed. I crouched next to her and put my arms around her. “It’s okay,” I said, “But I think we need to see someone to figure this out.”
She nodded, still sobbing face-first into the blanket. The next thing I did was call in sick to work. Nothing like this had ever happened to my wife, and I was determined to be there for her until we found a way to fix it.
I made her some breakfast that morning, but she fell asleep on the couch before I could finish it. She was dead tired, and it made me wonder how long she stood at the foot of the bed waiting for me to wake up the previous night. I put her breakfast on a plate and set it on the ground in front of the couch in case she woke up. I needed to shower.
I took a quick shower, expecting her to be up and about when I was done. I was surprised and relieved to see that she was still sleeping when I got out. I took the opportunity to do some research on therapists in my area. I called a few, and the soonest we could be seen by someone was two days. But one office mentioned that we could walk in at any time if it was an emergency. Seeing my wife lie in peaceful sleep on the couch, I naively thought that it could wait.
She woke up late in the afternoon. The breakfast plate I made had long since gone cold, so I dumped it and started making a light dinner of chicken and rice. It was hard to go wrong with chicken and rice, and I knew it was one of my wife’s favorite dishes, at least out of the dishes I could make.
“Morning, honey,” I said, “Want some food?”
She ignored me completely, and she robotically rose from the couch. She grabbed the car keys and was out the door before I could say a word in protest.
“The hell?” I said aloud. I turned the stove off and ran to my room to get some socks on. I threw shoes on right after and hobbled outside. I saw her back out of our parking spot and slam the gas, propelling the car forward. Smoke rose from the tires as she sped out of our complex and toward the highway.
I went back inside our apartment and tore my phone out of my pocket. I called her, and I heard her phone vibrating in between the couch cushions. I growled to myself and went to pick it up. I ended the call from her phone, and her screen changed to a low-quality colored photo of a little girl.
It was that girl, the one that kept showing up at our door. Except her eyes weren’t black. They were green like my wife’s. She stood alone, staring at me as if I was a stranger. It occurred to me that I had never actually seen a photo of my wife as a child. She always said that her parents never cared enough to take any photos before they abandoned her.
I put her phone down and tried to think of where she would have driven off to, but I lost my train of thought when I heard three faint knocks at my door. Tap, tap, tap.
It was her. The little girl with black colored eyes. What did she want? She already turned my wife against me, and in all the time she spent in our apartment, she never showed a bit of interest in me. She only cared for my wife.
My wife. God only knows where she went off to. She drove away just moments before the knock came to the door, leaving her phone, wallet, shoes, and everything else here in the apartment. She couldn’t have gone far with no money on her. Right?
I picked her phone up and looked again at the picture she left open on the screen: a picture of her as a child. I brought my eye to the peephole of my door and saw the black-eyed girl outside. Her gaze was fixed straight ahead, and I feared that she could see right through the thin veil of my door.
I compared the picture of my wife to the girl outside, looking back and forth. It was her. She was my wife as a child, or it looked exactly like her anyway. Same face. Same bright blonde hair. Same size. The only difference was eye color. The girl outside had pure black eyes as if they were giant pupils only put in check by the whites of her eyes. The photo showed my wife’s evergreen eyes that I grew to know over the years of our relationship. I’ve put in many hours looking at those eyes while we were dating and after, but I couldn’t hold eye contact with this little girl version of her for even one second. There was something maddening about it as if the blackness of her eyes constantly held back the screams of a soul in pain.
She knocked again with the same soft, rhythmic knocks. Tap, tap, tap.
I stood still at the peephole, fearing that any motion from my end would reveal I was home. I watched her face intently, trying to look anywhere but her eyes. To my relief, she turned around and walked off our apartment porch. I kept watching until she walked out of the peephole’s vision completely.
I scrambled to the kitchen counter where my phone, keys, and wallet were. I shoved my things into my pockets along with my wife’s phone. I wasn’t waiting around for the girl to knock on my door again.
I started a phone call to my parents. I hadn’t asked them for anything since I moved out at 18. To be honest, I don’t think I’d talked to them since the day of my wedding. But desperate times, desperate measures and all that. I would have them meet me at a gas station nearby, or even the park down the road. Hell, anywhere that had living, breathing people around.
I put my phone to my ear but heard no ring. After a few seconds, I realized my phone didn’t have service. I slammed my fist on the counter, angry at the whole situation of my wife walking out without saying a word.
A darkness rose outside my apartment. I could tell because less light was shining through the cracks of my window blinds. I approached my window and opened the blinds to see big puffs of white clouds block the sun. In the shade created, I saw the little girl standing in the middle of my apartment complex parking lot, staring at me.
The white clouds became darker and darker. The landscape outside quickly shifted from the cool light of a late afternoon to a pitch-black midnight with no moonlight shining through.
I swung open my front door and took off running, but blackness overtook me. I lost sight of the parking lot, the apartment complex, and eventually all my surroundings. They all turned to a thick, dark fog that extended in all directions. I looked down and screamed as the floor turned to black nothingness. I thought I would fall, but my feet kept grounded.
I closed my eyes and reopened them, only to realize I could see no difference in the level of darkness either way. I only knew my eyes were open from muscle memory and the fact that I could see my hands if held them up to my face.
I had run at least 20 yards from my front door, so I was shocked when I turned and saw it right behind me. The tall white door floated there in the black void. I tried to open it, but it was locked. I shivered in this lonely and cold wasteland of emptiness.
“Do you know where you are?” The high-pitched voice of the little girl echoed through the black fog. She appeared behind me, so I backed into my apartment door out of fear. It felt hard to breathe in the thick mist of darkness, so I leaned more of my own weight against the door.
“I… I don’t know,” I said with struggle.
“You’re in my eye,” her giggle bounced around the fog and into my head, making it throb.
“You took my wife… Didn’t you?”
“She’s in my other eye,” more giggles, “Good thing I have two! One for each of you.”
I groaned aloud, turned, and hit my forehead against the door. “Why can’t you just leave us alone?”
“I can’t,” she took on a serious tone, “I can’t because… Because… well, it’s hard to explain… Let me show you.” She disappeared for a moment, but the echo of her voice remained.
My apartment’s living room window popped into vision just next to my front door. Light emanated from it, making me cover my eyes until they could adjust to the brightness.
I looked through the bright window and saw myself in the apartment. I was in a trance of rage, pacing around and destroying everything inside. I saw myself grab our TV and smash it into the ground. I ripped open our cupboards and flung every piece of kitchenware I could get my hands on into our apartment walls. I flipped the couch and kicked over the garbage can while pulling my hair out and cursing my wife for leaving.
“Do you know who that is?” She asked.
“No! It’s an empty shell. Just like your wife yesterday.”
“My wife… Please… Let me see her one more time.”
Another window popped up a stone’s throw from my front door. This time it was the driver side window of our car. Light shined from the interior of our old sedan, and I could see my wife sitting in the driver’s seat. As I got closer, I saw her holding air as if it was a child. She wrapped it in her arms while rocking lightly back in forth and snuggling her head into nothing.
“That’s me,” the girl said, “I’m sitting with her.”
I looked closer and saw the black-eyed girl appear in the arms of my wife. They were curled up together in silence. My wife’s face was at peace. There were tears, but they were not of pain.
“Do you get it now?”
“Yes… You are her… You’re a part of her.”
There was silence in the void of blackness. The car window faded to black, so I walked back to our apartment door and living room window, the only things I could see in the expanse. I looked in the window again and saw my body lying on the living room floor, staring up at the ceiling and breathing heavily.
The girl appeared next to me. “Let’s make a deal,” she said, “I’ll send you back, if you promise to open the door when we knock.”
“I don’t have much a choice here, do I?” I sighed, “I guess I’m becoming a dad sooner than I thought.”
“I told you! We can’t leave you alone… Not until you’ve dealt with us.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“I don’t know… You’re the adult, not me.”
Alright, It’s a deal.”
“Good,” she said, “Now just knock on the door.”
She motioned toward the outside of my apartment door, “Knock.”
I lifted my arm to the tall door in front of me, feeling weaker and smaller. I turned my head and my wife grabbed my unoccupied hand as she latched her other hand with the girl. I managed three little knocks to the door. Tap, tap, tap.
I came to in my living room to the sound of three knocks. I was staring up at the ceiling, still feeling blood rushing from anger. I looked around and saw that I was lying in rubble. Crumbled drywall was spread across the carpet which was also littered with shattered glass. The worst headache of my life overwhelmed me, but I knew I needed to get the door quickly.
I got up and opened it to the girl and my wife. Her eyes told me that she was sorry for leaving. Somehow, they also managed to forgive me for being an asshole at the same time. I curled my lips up in a slight smile. I even stomached looking the girl in her black eyes for a few seconds despite still feeling uneasy about it.
But there was a third there with them. It was a little boy with big, black eyes that pushed against the whites of his eyes. I recognized him instantly. He was the one that just knocked. He was me.
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