Estimated reading time — 23 minutes
I’ve lived in the same house my entire life. I grew up here, and now I’m raising my own family under this roof. Our home is no mansion…far from it. We live in a small-terraced house on a narrow back street in North Belfast. At first glance, there isn’t much to it, but I never wanted to live anywhere else.
We have a community spirit that is sadly dying out elsewhere. The people on our street look out for their neighbours. We know what’s happening in each other’s lives and know when members of our community need help. I’ll admit, sometimes it can be stifling when all your neighbours know your business, but most of the time they show a genuine concern and a will to help. This close support network is a God send whenever your family has fallen on hard times or suffered a bereavement.
And so, what binds the residents of our wee street so closely together? Well, to a large extent its shared experience. Our street was first constructed in the 1880’s during the rapid expansion of Belfast due to the industrial revolution. The original Victorian terrace houses were built to accommodate mill workers, but such jobs have long since disappeared.
Over one hundred and thirty years have passed and there have obviously been significant changes in the area. Cobblestones have been replaced by tarmac and the old houses were torn down and rebuilt from scratch during the 1980’s. Nevertheless, we have so far resisted the forces of urban regeneration and gentrification, and therefore our street retains much of its original character.
Some of the families have lived here for three or four generations, and the community has been through a lot during that time – world wars, troubles, and depressions to name but a few. We’ve suffered and survived them all. But of course, other working-class communities in Belfast and beyond have had the same experience and history.
There is however one thing that sets our little street apart from the rest. You see, we have a unique and highly unusual tradition on our street that happens nowhere else.
For almost a century and a half we have kept this secret from the world, our people bound together in a near sacred vow of collective silence. Its with great reluctance that I’m breaking this vow after all these generations. I’m only doing so because I truly believe the time has come for people to know the truth. And there’s another reason too. I have a warning that the world needs to hear.
This is difficult to explain, and so I think it’s best to start by describing my first encounter with the ‘Big Man’. The year was 1987 and I was only four years old. My younger brother Kevin is a year behind me, so he would have been three at the time. Now, this wasn’t the first time the Big Man visited our street. He comes every year on the same night, but not at the same time.
Usually, he makes his appearance around midnight or in the early hours, when young children are safely tucked away in their beds. But in theory, the Big Man can appear at any time between dusk and dawn. In 1987 he came early, and so my parents were caught out.
I remember we’d just had our dinner, and Kevin and I were watching some TV before bed. Looking back, I suppose my parents were tense on that evening, but you don’t really pick up on things like that when you’re a child.
We only realised something was wrong when the streetlights began to flicker – on and off, three times in quick succession, before coming back on again. That’s what happens every year. Even back in the era of gas lanterns it was the same. We don’t know what causes it, but this is the signal. This is how we know he’s coming.
I remember my Dad going nuts when the streetlights started playing up. His eyes suddenly widened as he shot up from his armchair and screamed at me and my brother, telling us to “shut that bloody TV off!”
Kevin and I both looked back at our father in confusion, not understanding what was going on. My father’s anger grew, as he clenched his fists and screwed up his face, repeating his order in a tone that left no room for doubt.
“Turn off the television NOW! Or I’ll slap some sense into the both of you!”
Kevin and I looked at each other in fear before I acted quickly, switching off the TV set without delay. I remember feeling scared, even at that point. My father wasn’t usually an angry or violent man. Sure, he would discipline us children when necessary, but he was never nasty about it. I’d never seen him explode like this before without provocation.
This was my first indication that something was very wrong. The second was when my mother flew into a blind panic, rising up from the sofa and almost pulling her hair out as she ran about the room, shouting incoherently.
“It’s too soon! He’s come too soon! We’re not ready! The kids are still up. We’re not ready!”
“Calm down woman, for God’s sake!” my father replied firmly, as he grabbed hold of my mother’s shoulders and forced her to look him in the eye. “It’s happening now, and we need to get ourselves sorted! Now, get those curtains drawn and the lights off.”
Mum was still terrified, but she regained some level of self-composure now she had a purpose. She followed Dad’s instructions by drawing the sitting room curtains, her hands shaking almost uncontrollably as she did so. Next, she switched off the main lamp, leaving the room in darkness, with only a dim light coming from the street.
Daddy took a tight hold of me, while Mummy held on to Kevin. His embrace was so tight that I almost couldn’t breathe.
“Be quiet.” my Dad ordered, “Don’t make a single sound until I tell you its safe. Do as I say, and everything will be fine.”
I was petrified by this point, as was Kevin. We were both in tears, whimpering and shaking in our parents’ arms. Still, we had to trust that our Mum and Dad would protect us from whatever danger was coming. And so, the four of us sat huddled on the floor in our darkened sitting room, waiting in fearful silence…And then we heard it.
Footsteps, coming from out on the street. Now, I call them footsteps, but this doesn’t really do the sound justice. Imagine a giant wearing size 20 heavy military boots, slowly but confidently marching down a pavement designed for much smaller men, with every step he takes shaking the ground and emitting a heavy thumping sound.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. I shuddered at each thud, realising that the terrible sound was coming ever closer.
Now, just to explain something about my street. None of the houses have front gardens of any description. Instead, our sitting room windows face directly out onto the street. This isn’t great for privacy, as it means anyone walking down the pavement can look directly into your front room. Usually this isn’t a huge problem however, as our neighbours are respectful, and we don’t get much traffic on the street.
However, on that night I soon came to a terrifying conclusion, realising that whatever lumbering monster was making its way down the road would soon walk right past our front window, and we were powerless to stop it.
THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! I let out a terrified yelp as I saw a dark shadow move in front of the window. I would surely have screamed, except my father held his hand over my mouth to prevent it. We couldn’t see the man as our curtains were drawn, but I recall clearly glimpsing the massive shadow of the lumbering figure, easily the largest man I’ve ever seen – at least seven foot tall and broad shouldered, with his huge figure blocking out the light.
THUMP. He took another step and then suddenly…he stopped. He stood directly in front of the window and slowly turned around, shifting his huge frame so he was facing directly towards our house. All that stood between us now was the soft fabric of our curtain and a thin glass pane. We couldn’t see his face or his eyes, but I got the distinct impression he saw us clearly through the curtain, and I had an eerie feeling that he could see right into our very souls.
Mum lost her nerve at this point, as she began muttering in panicked bursts, repeating – “Please God…not us…Anybody but us…Please God!”
“Shut your mouth woman!” my father muttered angrily.
I wasn’t like him to speak to his wife so abruptly, but under the circumstances his harsh words seemed justified.
The dark figure stood outside our window for what seemed like an eternity, but in retrospect could only have been a few short seconds. And then suddenly, he lifted up his huge right hand and formed a fist, reaching out to knock against our window.
BANG. The knock was so heavy that I was astonished the thin glass didn’t shatter, but somehow it never does.
My mother started up again at this point – “Oh God…Oh God…Please no! This can’t be happening!”
I expected Dad to rebuke her again, but he said nothing. I remember looking up into his eyes and seeing pure fear.
The mysterious figure knocked once and then stopped. We looked on in frozen terror, waiting helplessly to see what this monster would do next. There followed another long and tense moment, before the figure slowly and calmly turned, once again facing the pavement as he continued his slow march down the street.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. We listened cautiously, feeling the tension slowly lift the further he went. To my shame I realised I’d wet myself, and my urine had spread all over Dad’s jeans. But he said nothing about it. Instead, he was ecstatic.
“One knock!” he exclaimed, after the figure had moved on. “One bloody knock! Can you believe it?”
“Thank God!” Mum proclaimed emotionally, “We’ve been spared!”
“More than that!” Dad answered, as he got up and reached for the light switch. “We’re in luck! Our numbers have come up! Damn it! I should have played the bloody pools this week!” he said, laughing as he spoke.
Neither Kevin nor I understood what he meant, but we felt the same relief as our parents. Clearly, as bad as it had been that night, it could have been much worse.
We all slept in the same bed that night, not that any of us got much rest. The next day we were inundated with visitors, as just about every one of our neighbours came to check on us. I remember people bringing round endless cups of tea, sandwiches, and cakes…more than we could ever eat.
My parents laughed and joked with the neighbours. Men patted my Dad on the back, saying what a lucky beggar he was. It was the oddest thing, and it would be years before I understood what had happened.
One week later, my mother discovered she was pregnant. My parents had been trying for a third child for two years by this point, without any luck. They’d been close to giving up before receiving that great news. And, 9 months later, my little sister Christine was born. One knock. One for luck.
No one knows exactly who or what the Big Man is. Clearly, he is not human, because he appears to be immortal and has supernatural powers, or at least the ability to predict the future. Many of our street’s residents have expressed theories over the years.
The Big Man has been called everything from an angel, a demon, and a harbinger. Personally, I don’t know what he is, but I consider what he does as something akin to a public service. For better or for worse, he informs us of our destiny.
I have in my possession a secret history of the Big Man, dating back to his first recorded appearance in 1886. We have written records thanks to the diligent work of the Hennessey family. Mr Hennessey was our neighbour for decades before his passing from cancer at the age of 73. He carried on the tradition of documenting the Big Man’s appearances, as his father and grandfather had done before him.
Thanks to this family’s dedication, we have a detailed history dating back to year dot – a record of every time the Big Man has walked our street, what time he arrived at, the houses he visited, and the fates of those who received the dreaded knocks.
We don’t know why the Big Man picks on our street specifically. No other street in the area has been subjected to such visits. Ours is a back street leading off a main throughway, but there have never been any reported sightings of the mysterious figure on this busy road. For all intents and purposes, he appears as if from nowhere at the top of our street before disappearing without a trace when he reaches the end.
What’s more, for several minutes of his lonely walk, it’s as if our street is cut off from the rest of the world, like we’ve been temporarily transported to another plane of existence. It’s a terrifying thing, and perhaps its best not to think too much about it. He came to us the very first year the street was built and has come every year since.
The window knocking I experienced in 1987 is a regular occurrence of his visitations. The number of houses he visits varies year by year, and there is no discernible pattern. Some years, he will stop at several houses (the record for one night is six), while other times he only calls on one household. And, on a couple of occasions, he’s walked the street without tapping on a single window.
However, we know one thing for certain. The fates of the families visited will depend on the number of times the Big Man taps on their window. One knock for luck, two for misfortune, and three for death.
That’s why my parents were so frightened that night, and so relieved when the Big Man moved on after a single knock. We were blessed that night – but, if the man had knocked one or (God forbid) two more times on our window…well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
One knock doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win the lottery, but it can mean that someone in your household will pass their exams or gets a new job. Likewise, two knocks can mean anything from an illness or injury, losing one’s job, or getting arrested.
After my first experience with the Big Man in 1987, it was another decade before he called on our family again. On that cold autumn night in 1997 we received two knocks, and a fortnight later my Daddy suffered a heart attack. It was terrifying, but my father had a successful bypass surgery, after which he changed his lifestyle and made a full recovery. And even though we were all scared, we knew Daddy would pull through, because the Big Man had knocked twice and not three times.
Three knocks, meaning there will be a death in the household. We’ve had some tragedies on the street over the years – everything from undiagnosed illnesses, car crashes, and murder. The Big Man has never been wrong. That said, three knocks isn’t always an unwanted visitation. If a resident is old and suffering from a painful and incurable illness, they may very well welcome the prospect of a final release. Nevertheless, three knocks is the message that every young family dreads to receive.
Well, I can imagine what you’re all thinking at this point, and no doubt you have questions – Has anyone ever seen the Big Man in the flesh? Has anyone ever tried to stop him? And, why don’t we call the police? I’ll try to address these points one by one.
Firstly, yes. Several people have seen the Big Man over the decades. Contrary to the beliefs of some, it doesn’t do you any harm to look upon the walking figure, although it’s recommended you do so from a safe distance, and you must NEVER look him in the eye (I’ll explain why later). Many people, myself included, have dared to peek through the curtains over the years and have caught a glimpse of the Big Man, living to tell the tale.
How would I describe him? Well, as his name suggests, the Big Man is incredibly large, almost impossibly so. He’s at least seven foot tall and – if you’ll excuse my language – built like a brick shithouse; broad shouldered and with a huge frame that would dwarf that of an average adult male. His clothing is consistent with the style of the late 19th or early 20th century and (as far as anyone can tell) hasn’t changed in the past 140 years.
His head is always covered by a fedora style hat, and he wears a long trench coat reaching down to his ankles, with his collar turned up to cover his face. On his feet are heavy military type boots which emit the impossibly loud thumping sound whenever he walks.
Other than this, there isn’t much to say about the Big Man’s physical appearance. Clearly, he goes to some effort to disguise his true form, and no doubt there’s a good reason for this. Also, it has proved impossible to photograph or video the Big Man during his annual visit. Many have tried over the years, but the film is always corrupted.
With regards to the police – Well, we live in a community where we don’t usually involve the authorities as we prefer to deal with things ourselves. Besides, what would we tell the switchboard operator? That there’s a seven-foot-tall paranormal entity walking down our street, randomly tapping on people’s windows? I think not.
Oh, and before you ask, several priests have attempted to carry out exorcisms on our street over the years, but all to no avail.
There have in fact been three recorded occasions during our street’s history where persons have attempted to interfere with our visitor as he carries out his rounds.
The first occurred in 1891, a few years after the Big Man had first appeared. A group of local men had grown tired of the Big Man’s visits and so armed themselves with clubs, bats, and knuckle dusters, intending to run the visitor off the street. Mr Hennessey’s grandfather wrote an account of the event in his journal, describing how the gang of toughs lost their nerve whenever they saw the figure approach, fleeing from the scene and taking refuge inside their homes.
It was more than eighty years later before anyone dared to confront the Big Man again. The year was 1972 and the Troubles were at their height. There was a man called Hughes who lived in number 12. Hughes was a member of a paramilitary group whose name I won’t mention, and he had a reputation for being a hot head.
Anyway, in the run up to the 1972 visit, Mr Hughes began bragging to his neighbours, saying how he planned to kill the Big Man once and for all. He was warned against such a rash course of action by many, including Mr Hennessey’s father, but Hughes took no notice.
That night he armed himself with a fully loaded revolver and set up a rather crude trap, removing the front of his letterbox to use as a firing slit. Laying in wait, Hughes stood guard on one knee by his front door and opened fire at point blank range whenever the Big Man crossed his doorstep.
Now, there’s still some debate as to whether the six bullets went straight through his huge frame, or if the bullets struck his body and simply failed to make any impact. In any event, the Big Man didn’t react at all to the attack. He simply kept on walking. That is, for another 6 yards, at which point he turned to face Mr Hughes’s front window, tapping the glass three times. And sure enough, Hughes was shot dead in a gun battle with the Army five days later.
There are those to this day who argue that the Big Man had punished Hughes for his violent attack. I don’t believe this, nor did the late Mr Hennessey. We believe Mr Hughes was always marked for death, regardless of the reckless shooting he carried out.
Having studied and analysed the Big Man’s visits over the decades, Mr Hennessey was unable to identify any obvious pattern or correlation. The Big Man doesn’t appear to reward good people or punish bad ones. Likewise, some households have received multiple visits in the last few years, while others haven’t had a knock on their window in decades. It all seems so random and not at all subject to an ordained plan.
Personally, I don’t believe the Big Man is in any way malicious. In many ways he is simply a messenger. But that is not to say he isn’t dangerous to us mere mortals, and the tragic fate of Mr Johnston attests to this.
Mr Johnston used to live in number 23. He was, I’m sorry to say, an alcoholic. To be fair to him, Mr Johnston was a functioning alcoholic for much of his adult life, holding down a job and providing for his family. But then one year he received two knocks on his front window, and soon after he got laid off by his employer.
Mr Johnston’s alcohol problem only worsened after this misfortune. He wasn’t able to find a new job and whatever little money he had was squandered away on drink. Eventually, his wife had enough and moved out, taking their two sons with her.
Mr Johnston was rarely sober and his life was a total shambles. Nevertheless, he wasn’t a violent or aggressive drunk, and became more of a nuisance than anything else. He was still a member of our community however, and all his neighbours chipped in to make sure he was okay – tidying his house, making sure he ate, and running him to A&E whenever he fell over drunk and hurt himself. We tried to get him to sober up and get his act together, but there’s not much you can do for a man who lacks the will to change.
The year was 1999, and it was coming up to the night of the Big Man’s annual visit. No-one had seen Mr Johnston for a few days, but he had a reputation for going off on lengthy benders, and he always made his way home eventually. We therefore expected him to turn up at some point. I don’t think anyone could have imagined the tragedy that would befall the poor man on that awful night.
The Big Man came as always, arriving at the top of the street shortly before midnight and walking his route as he always did. Several of the residents – myself included – were nervously watching his progress from behind drawn curtains, quietly praying that we wouldn’t receive bad news.
All was going to plan so to speak, until we suddenly heard a loud ruckus emanating from the far end of the street. I remember that moment vividly and can still recall the horror I felt when I saw the inebriated Mr Johnston staggering along the road, singing an incoherent ballad as he went.
Mr Johnston was drunkenly making his way down the street from one end, while the huge figure of the Big Man slowly marched from the other direction. If no-one intervened, the two would meet in the middle of the street and God knew what would happen to the poor and hapless Mr Johnston.
I was only 16 at the time, but I still feel guilty to this day that I did nothing to save the poor man. I wanted to open the window and shout out a warning, but I was frozen in terror. In fact, there were at least a dozen residents watching this terrible event unfold, hiding in darkened rooms and peeking through curtains. Not one of them made a move or called out a warning. We were all impotent and helpless observers to the tragedy about to unfold.
Mr Johnston virtually stumbled into the Big Man, the sight reminding me of a shallow wave breaking against a solid wall of rock. The Big Man’s reaction was…extremely unnerving. He did something he’d never done before – stopping dead in his tracks, facing the baffled Mr Johnston at a distance of only a few short metres.
Johnston struggled to stand and focus his eyes on the huge and frightening figure blocking his path. His garbled ballad abruptly ended as he saw his assailant and finally realised the extreme danger he was in, as his drunken stupor was replaced by absolute terror.
And then, the Big Man did something else he’d never done before. Slowly and precisely, he lowered the collar on his trench coat ever so slightly. From my position I could see little, but it was obvious that Mr Johnson could. From where he stood, he would have been able to stare directly into the Big Man’s face, or whatever it was he hid under that collar and hat.
I’ll never forget the look of absolute terror etched across Mr Johnston’s ghostly pale face in that moment. I’d never seen a human being so frightened in all my life. Poor Mr Johnston remained frozen in place for somewhere between five to ten seconds. He was staring into an abyss, seemingly unable to avert his gaze.
And then, all of a sudden, he fell down. His body simply collapsed onto the road as if all the life had been drained out of him. The awful sight reminded me of a puppet suddenly having its strings cut all at once.
The Big Man paused for just a moment before carefully readjusting his collar, stepping over Mr Johnston’s lifeless body, and continuing his march down the road. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Mercifully, no-one received a knock on their window that night – but the damage had already been done.
Nobody dared to step out onto the street until we knew he was gone. By the time we went to Mr Johnston’s aid, it was already too late. The paramedics said he’d suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. Naturally, we didn’t tell them what really happened that night. But, given Mr Johnston’s history of substance abuse, the authorities didn’t ask too many questions, and his death was written off as ‘due to natural causes’.
But everyone on our street knew there was nothing natural about what happened on that awful evening, and no-one ever spoke of confronting the Big Man again.
And so, life went on. The Big Man continued to make his visit once a year. The night is always tense and nerve-wracking, but for better or worse we’ve always got through it. His visits are like the weather – sometimes good and other times bad, but there’s no way to change it, and so the residents of Arden Street have simply learnt to live with this unique and unexplainable annual occurrence.
So, you might be asking why I’ve decided to break our code of silence after all these decades? Why am I speaking out now and telling people about something that only affects our wee street? Well, that’s just the thing. It isn’t just about Arden Street anymore. And, after what happened during the Big Man’s last visit, I believe the time has come for the world to know the truth.
Before I describe to you the events of that fateful night last autumn, I think its worth telling you more about myself, and how my life has turned out. I’m in my late 30’s now and have been married for 16 years to my husband Steven. Stevie is a local boy, but he didn’t grow up on our street, so he had no previous knowledge of the Big Man or his annual visits.
Stevie didn’t believe me when I first told him of our bizarre tradition. He assumed I was playing a joke on him. But, after he saw it for himself, he never questioned me again. We’ve had a happy marriage all in all. There’s been ups and downs like in any relationship, but for the most part it’s been good.
My parents retired to a bungalow up on the north coast, while Stevie and I took on the house, soon starting a family of our own. We’ve been blessed with two wonderful children – our eldest Tom, now aged 15, and our daughter Jenny, aged 12. We’re not a wealthy family but we make do, and we live in a very supportive community. I love my family and my neighbours, and I count myself very lucky to have them in my life.
The other thing to say about myself is that I’ve inherited the task of recording the Big Man’s annual visits to our wee street, taking over the job from Mr Hennessey after he passed away. Mr Hennessey was our neighbour for decades, and he and his wife were like family to us. I became particularly close with Mr Hennessey after his wife passed away. The couple had never had children and so he was lonely after losing his wife, and I felt it was my responsibility to look after him.
Then, in 2015, the poor man received three knocks on his window from the Big Man, and soon after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I was devastated upon hearing this, but Mr Hennessey took the bad news philosophically, saying he’d lived a good life but now his time had come.
He did however ask for one last favour from me before he passed away. He wanted me to continue his family’s legacy and take on responsibility for recording the Big Man’s annual visits. I was reluctant to be honest. This task was more of a burden than an honour, but I didn’t feel I could refuse Mr Hennessey’s dying request, and so I said yes.
As I said, life went on. I raised my family and recorded the unique history of our street, adding to the Hennessey family journal year by year. Thankfully, my own family didn’t receive any visits for several years…that was until last autumn.
Like my first encounter with the Big Man back in 1987, last year’s visit was an early one, coming shortly after dusk. We were all sitting together in the living room, Stevie and I watching TV while Tom and Jenny were playing with their smart phones. As always, we were all slightly nervous, but the kids are old enough now to know the score, and I felt confident that we could get through anything that came, as long as we stuck together as a family.
The streetlights flickered off and on three times at just after 7pm, prompting my son Tom to swear aloud.
“Oh shit!” he exclaimed.
“Mind your language, young man!” I reprimanded.
“He’s bloody early this year.” My husband added nervously.
“It’s not unknown.” I replied, whilst trying to exert confidence in my voice. “He’s come early before, and it makes no difference to how things turn out.”
This much was true, but nevertheless I felt very uneasy. I couldn’t stop myself thinking back to that night in ’87, when I was a terrified little girl quaking in my Daddy’s arms. But now I had my own family to protect, and so I needed to stay strong.
Before long we heard the ominous sound of the Big Man’s heavy boots thumping forcefully against the pavement. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
We went through our usual routine, quickly drawing the curtains and switching off all lights and electrical devices, sitting silently in the dark as we waited for our visitor to pass.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. The sound gradually grew ever louder. Before long, the dark shadow of his huge frame would pass by our front window. I quietly prayed he would leave us be. The odds were we’d be fine, but you never could tell.
And suddenly there he was – the giant figure blocking out the lights from the street, his ominous silhouette clearly visible through our thin curtains. My daughter Jenny gasped in awe and terror. I grabbed hold of her, holding a hand up to her mouth and telling her to keep quiet.
But to my horror, I saw the Big Man had stopped dead in his tracks, and I watched him slowly turn to face our window.
“Sweet Jesus!” Stevie swore under his breath.
I looked to the faces of my children and saw their fear.
“Its going to be okay kids. Stay brave.” I said.
I didn’t want to show my children how scared I truly was. We waited breathlessly, watching on in terror as the Big Man lifted his enormous arm, forming a solid fist and reaching out to knock on the glass.
BANG. I felt my whole body tremble as the ominous sound reverberated throughout our small living room. One knock. One for luck. Would my family be lucky once again? Somehow, I doubted it.
BANG. The second knock. Two for misfortune. Jenny started to sob softly. I held her hand so tightly. We can survive this, I remember thinking. Whatever life throws at us, we can get through it, just as long as…
BANG. The third knock. Three for death.
“Please God no!” I swore, as I felt a sickness rising from the pit of my stomach.
In a panic, I glanced across at Stevie and saw the shocked horror in his eyes. We’d talked about this nightmare scenario once before, praying that – if worse came to worst – death would take one of us. The thought of losing one of the children was too terrible to contemplate.
I was still reeling from the terrifying implications when I heard it.
BANG. A fourth knock.
I was in a state of utter shock. How could this be possible? Had I miscounted?
“Four knocks.” Tom confirmed, as if reading my mind.
There was something evident in my son’s eyes that I should have picked up on, but I was too distracted. Four knocks. This had never happened before, not in a century and a half of our street’s history. My mind was racing in that moment. What could this mean? What horrific outcome could four knocks signify? A fate worse than death itself?
Whatever it meant, we would have to work it out ourselves, as the Big Man turned back towards the pavement and continued his walk down the road. It would have ended there I suppose, but what happened next took me completely off guard.
Now, my Tom has always worn his heart on his sleeve. He’s got a good heart and cares about his family and friends. If he gets in a fight at school its usually because he’s defending some other kids from bullies. That said, he’s an impulsive teenager, prone to acting without thinking of the consequences, and this is exactly what happened that night.
It all happened so fast, before either Stevie or I had a chance to intervene. Tom obviously saw red, letting his emotions get the better of him. In an instant he was up on his feet and sprinting out of the room, heading straight for our front door.
Jenny was the first to react. She broke from my embrace, screaming – “Tom, don’t do it!”
Before I could stop her, Jenny had taken off after her brother. Stevie and I jumped up and chased after our children, screaming at them to come back, but it was already too late. I ran out into the corridor and – to my horror – saw Tom open the front door and charge out onto the street. Jenny meant to follow her brother, but Stevie acted quickly, physically grabbing our daughter and holding her back while she kicked and screamed wildly.
Without thinking, I pushed past them and dashed out onto the pavement. This was an action I never thought I would take on the night of his visitation, but my son’s life was in danger and so I had no choice.
I came out onto the road to witness a horrifying scene. My son’s anger had not diminished, as he stood behind the Big Man and screamed out at the top of his lungs.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT FROM US? WHY CAN’T YOU LEAVE US ALONE!”
For a short time, it seemed as if the whole world stood still. To my abject horror, I saw the giant figure of the Big Man stop in his tracks and slowly begin to turn in Tom’s direction. In that moment I couldn’t help but remember what had happened to Mr Johnston all those years ago. I wasn’t going to let the same fate befall my son. I was determined to save him, even if it meant sacrificing myself to do so.
In an instant, I sprinted across the road and threw myself on top of Tom, tackling my son down to the hard ground. He yelped in shock and pain, but I lay on top of him, frantically whispering in his ear, saying – “Stay down! Whatever you do, don’t look at his face!”
We both trembled in each other’s arms as we lay on the cold tarmac, quietly praying for our salvation. I heard Stevie shouting my name from the doorway.
“Stay where you are!” I cried back, without looking up.
All was silent for the next few seconds, and then we heard it. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. I glanced up ever so slightly and was horrified to see the foreboding figure slowly walking back towards us. Walking back, retracing his steps! This had never happened, not in 140 years. The Big Man had always walked from one end of the street to the other. Never had he marched the other way, until now.
I didn’t dare look up and was unable to move an inch, instead simply clutching hold of my son as I sought to protect him from what was coming. Tom was openly sobbing by this point, as all his previous bravado had faded away. I silently cursed him for putting us in such severe danger, but this was no time for recriminations.
THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! The Big Man was almost on top of us now, his heavy black boots only inches from my head. A terrible stench emanated from underneath his trench coat. It smelt like death.
The terror I felt in that moment was unlike anything I had previously experienced. I didn’t just fear for my life, but also for my soul. But despite everything, my maternal instinct remained strong.
“Don’t look up.” I whispered to the whimpering Tom.
He stood over us for what seemed like an eternity. I never would have predicted what happened next. For the first time in recorded history, the Big Man spoke. His voice was deep and booming, more God like than any sound a human being could emit.
And what he said was this – “IT IS COMING. YOU MUST PREPARE THEM.”
And, with that, he turned on his heels and began walking back in the opposite direction, slowly progressing until he reached the end of the street and disappeared into thin air.
Tom and I survived that horrendous night, but our entire family was left traumatised by those bizarre and unprecedented events, as were the other residents of our street. Several months have passed, and so far no terrible fate has befallen our family, although we still live in fear.
I’ve spent countless hours and sleepless nights trying to make sense of that night. The four knocks. The Big Man’s cryptic words. What is coming? Who must we prepare? I don’t know for sure, but I think this is bigger than me, bigger than us.
I believe whatever catastrophe the Big Man has warned of is something that will affect society as a whole, and not just our little back street. This is why I’m going public. I need to get this information out there.
I don’t know what is coming or what we must do to prepare, but I pray someone out there does. Because I fear we’re fast running out of time.
Credit : Finn MacCool
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