18 May Knocking
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Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
It started when I was six years old.
I was in school, it was the middle of a reading lesson, and I needed to pee, badly. At that age, actually, a fair few kids still wet themselves, and I always got paranoid about embarrassing myself in public like that. I stuck my hand up and told Mrs. Zebby that I needed to use the bathroom. After the usual speech about how I “should have gone at break”, she gave me the key to the Disabled-Access toilet. (As it was the closest one to my classroom.)
It was the middle of fifth period, and the corridors were empty and seemed cavernous to me: I was a short, scrawny thing back then. I sometimes had trouble with doors, especially unlocking them, and I fumbled for a good minute or two in trying to get the blasted thing open.
Anyway, as I sat on my porcelain throne, there came a knocking at the door.
“Someone’s in here,” I called, disgruntled at this disturbance.
There came a pause, then the knocking resumed. It was faster now, more determined.
“Wait a minute!”
The knocking slowed, and a voice replied:
“Let me in. I need to come inside.”
The speaker’s tone was thin and reedy: an adult I didn’t recognize. I may have been six, but I also had a fairly good understanding of bathroom etiquette. Mainly that you didn’t let more than one person into an area only slightly larger than a cupboard.
The knocking intensified again, until it was a frantic drum-beat, just a few feet from me and out-of-sight. I heard the voice shouting something, growing more and more desperate:
“Let me in! Just open the door, please!”
I was terrified, by that point. The hammering and yelling were so loud, and yet nobody had come to investigate it. Eventually, my teacher came to find me, angry because I had been gone for almost half an hour. When I refused to open the door to let her in, she got a spare key from the receptionist and then took me to the headmaster’s office and called my parents. I was suspended for the rest of the week. I never told anyone what happened.
It was a few weeks before my next encounter with this phenomenon. I had just celebrated my seventh birthday, and my family was having a barbecue in my honor. It was a gloriously sunny day, but as soon as we’d set everything up in the allotments behind our house, the coal refused to light. My dad asked me to go and get some fire-starters from the shed in the front garden.
It was pretty cramped inside, and I wouldn’t fit all the way, so I just opened it up, stood on tip-toes to reach the shelf holding my objective, then shut the door. As I turned away, a frantic knocking hit the other side of the door.
“Open up! I need to come through!” This voice was not the one I’d heard the month before: it was deeper, more brooding and angry.
I said nothing and hurried away. I had no idea what was happening, but it frightened me. As I walked away, There came a final thump, like a fist being slammed against wood, and I heard his voice again:
“You little bastard. I’ll rip your fucking teeth out. Let me THROUGH!”
I ran back to my party and spent the rest of the day glancing over my shoulder.
As you might have guessed by now, there were a lot of these voices. I count at least thirty, total. Every month or so, I used to get them: pleading to be let through doors. Almost always, it would be immediately after I shut the door behind me, as though these strange entities had been following me. I never told anyone, but to be honest, I kinda just got used to it. It always made me jump, and some of the voices would make me feel uneasy, but I knew that I was safe, so long as I did not open the door. Some of the voices, I got used to, to the extent that I even named them. There was one which always used to appear at my front door, at home. We have frosted glass, and I could see a silhouette of an average-sized man wearing a cap of some kind. He never spoke, but occasionally would push envelopes containing blank pieces of paper through the letterbox. I called him the postman. He was one of the more unsettling ones. If I tried to speak to him, he would look up, sharply, then begin knocking. I generally left the Postman alone.
Twenty years on, and I have retained as much normality as possible. I have plenty of friends, and I even have an on-and-off relationship with a girl I met last year. Not bad for a guy who wakes up in the middle of the night and listens intently to noises you can’t hear on the other side of the door. Yeah, my buddies think I’m strange and kooky, but they put up with it. They’re all great. I’ll miss them.
You see, things have started to get strange. Well, stranger than usual, I suppose. Three weeks ago, I awoke, sweating and crying, though I do not know why. My dream had been, from what I recall, fairly normal, when a huge shadow had abruptly fallen over everything. Literally, the second I opened my eyes, there came the knocking at my bedroom door. Not just normal knocking, though. This was truly frantic.
“Who goes there?” I yelled.
“P-please. Help us…” it replied. I was surprised. It was the sadistic, angry voice that I remember from my father’s shed on my seventh birthday, but it seemed genuinely sincere. There was a pained tone to it, too: as though the speaker were grievously wounded. I actually found myself pulling back the sheets to get up, but I hesitated. I had never before been tempted to open the door. I suppose, as a child, I had so rigorously drummed-in to my head the idea that whatever lay beyond was evil that it was just common sense. To be quite honest, I came very close to letting the thing into my room, that morning. I held out, in the end.
It got worse. Just two days later, I was in my local corner shop. I’d just paid for a bottle of milk and a newspaper when a great force slammed against the shop door. Simultaneously, a voice began screaming: a long, keening squeal of pain. I whirled to face the door, but there were so many fliers plastered over the glass that I could only just make out the shape of a woman on the other side, slapping her palms against the window. The shopkeeper stared at me, as though I were crazy. In the end, I asked if he had a bathroom I could use, murmured some half-thought-out excuse and hid there for ten minutes until the screaming stopped. There were four more incidents between then and now: a mixture of screams and tearful begging. The Postman stopped by yesterday, too. He knocked, politely, before sliding his usual letter through the letterbox.
Then another. Then another.
A total of ten plain, brown envelopes. The Postman waited for a few minutes, knocking occasionally, and then he left me alone.
Each letter contained a sheet of A4 paper. But somebody had taken a black pen to the pages, scribbling and shading them with such vigor that there were large tears around the center, and the edges were frayed. I shoved them back into their envelopes and tried to put it from my mind.
Earlier, my bedroom door shook, violently. It wasn’t a scream, or a howl, or a roar that I heard, though. It was just crying. Dozens and dozens of voices, sobbing quietly. Another blow struck my door. Plaster flaked from the walls and twirled to the carpet. Still no pleas or bargaining, just sobbing.
I jumped up from my chair.
A hairline crack split the frame of the door in one corner.
My phone began to ring, and I heard a sharp rapping at the glass of my window, behind the curtains. I tried answering the phone, but it was simply yet more voices crying. Not even sobbing, though: more like bawling in terror and anguish. I hung up, but it kept ringing, so I took the battery out.
I have shoved most of my furniture against the door and window. It has been three hours since this latest attempt at entry began. The battering has not abated. Nor has the crying. I’m fairly sure that my door won’t hold much longer. As for my mediocre barricade; it could be swept aside in two minutes. I find myself faced with the very real possibility of death, so I am writing this memoir of sorts, just in case something does happen.
What do they want?
Do they even want to hurt me?
They seemed fearless, even malicious before.
What could have driven them to this?
Maybe I should open the door.
Maybe I should let them in.
* * * * * *
Silence fell. I realized that even the crying had ceased. For a whole minute, I sat there. Then I got up and hurried to my door, eager to escape this claustrophobic situation. Perhaps I’d go outside, where I could be far away from any doors, and from the damned knocking. I pulled-away my barricade and turned the handle.
Kneeling, I peered through the keyhole. Beyond my bedroom door was not the corridor that I remembered, but another room, some kind of library or classroom, I think. It seemed unoccupied, but for one kid, sitting and reading with his back to me. I banged on the door.
“H-hey, kid. Let me out, okay?”
He glanced over his shoulder.
“Yeah, over here. Could you open the door, please?”
“I can’t. I’m in detention. I’m not supposed to talk to anyone. Go away.”
He turned from me. Confused and exasperated, I began to stand up. A loud bang shattered the silence once more. I realized it sounded like a fist being pounded against glass. My window!
I heard it again. But this was not the frantic knocking of somebody wanting to get inside. This was not even an attempt to break in. Whatever was beyond the curtain and glass knew I was inside. It knew I was frightened. In the most predatory and sadistic way possible, it wanted me to be afraid.
I turned back to the door and began hammering on it frantically.
“Hey! Let me in, okay? I really need you to open the door…”