Art by Yves Tourigny
It was terrible, but it had to be done. Now Beverly could breathe easier. Now her daughter would be safe. Her neighbors and friends were safe, all because of what she and Marietta had done. That was something. That was the thing to remember.
She finished wiping down the living room lamps. For a minute she stood still, breathing hard. Beads of perspiration trickled between her breasts. The white cotton blouse and black knit pants clung to her skin. She itched all over.
Outside the living room window the first drops of a downpour plopped onto a row of premature tulips, forcing their stems flat in the cool air. It had rained hard that afternoon then let up completely. Now a second storm was rolling in.
Beverly arched her back and listened to the plunk-plunk on the roof. She thought she heard raindrops hitting the back door, too. But there wasn’t enough of a breeze yet, for that. She fanned herself by flapping the front of her blouse.
At the end of the short hallway, past the turquoise bedroom on her left and a shapeless laundry nook full of odds and ends on her right, she studied the back door. No need to clean that. The wood paneling was in decent shape. A spyglass at eye-level afforded a narrow view of the back yard, with its Japanese maple and its catalpa, and on into the woods.
Beverly was gazing through the spyglass when she heard tapping at the front door. She smoothed her blouse and went to the living room, expecting to find the rain-soaked Pastor Colquitt on her doorstep with a morbid replay of the day’s memorial and a plea to attend his regular Sunday service. Such impromptu visits made Marietta’s son Henry unpopular around town, especially among his neighbors on Connie Sara Way.
Beverly looked out the glass and aluminum door. No one was there.
Now she heard tapping at the back of the house. Tapping, louder than the plunk-plunk of raindrops. Knocking. Someone was clearly knocking on the back door. That damn girl, she thought, and then remembered that the damn girl was dead and gone.
Beverly returned to the spyglass. With her fingers splayed, flat against the door, she leaned carefully forward. No sooner had her eye focused on the yard than she heard knocking at the front door again! It was ridiculous!
The rain was starting to come down like mad. In this torrent, anyone dashing from one end of the house to the other, outside, would fall down; but there was no sign of anyone, no matter how fast Beverly charged from door to door.
It had to be kids playing pranks, probably more of the Dempsey boys, some of the pathetic cousins from those little trailers up in the woods. They drank whiskey, all of them, and they played cards late into the night sometimes.
She would look up into the woods and see the amber lights of kerosene lamps, because most of them didn’t have electricity. There were five or six trailers and vans parked on one piece of land. The grownups kept pretty quiet except during hunting season, but the kids were bored. The kids got into trouble. Not like Connie Sara, just the usual kind of trouble, stealing cigarettes at Misty Mart. Dumb stuff.
Beverly took a detour into the kitchen. She knelt on the checkerboard floor and opened a cabinet under the sink. She grabbed the first thing handy, a can of foaming cleanser. That would give them a surprise!
She shook the can hard and strode toward the front door, ready for action. Then she looked up, and froze. The stimulated contents of the can crept out the nozzle like drool and ran down onto the carpet. She dropped the can.
On the opposite side of the glass and aluminum door someone was watching her intently, facing the door, so close to the glass that Beverly couldn’t make out any features, only the outline of a head, shoulders, and arms.
“Hello?” She said.
The person didn’t answer or move.
Beverly thought: Halloween pranks in the spring! Stupid kids!
But she didn’t laugh.
“Is that Darrell Joe Dempsey?” She asked.
“Rodney Junior?” She said. “You better answer me.”
Not a sound. She tried to move, but she couldn’t force herself to go forward. She wanted to slam the wooden door shut against the security door and lock it, but she couldn’t.
Whoever it was grabbed the handle and shook it hard. The door made a tin, shuddering noise. Beverly thought it was coming off the hinges.
She stayed frozen. As suddenly as the shaking had begun, it stopped. The figure outside let go of the handle, drew back, and spat a wad of phlegm at the glass. The mess stuck and dripped down leaving a slug trail.
Startled by the smacking, fluid sound, Beverly lurched forward and slammed the front door over the glass and aluminum one. She slid the deadbolt into place. Immediately she heard knocking at the back of the house again.
She crept to the back door. The breath felt sharp in her chest. She flicked through a mental inventory of latches, bolts, and locks. She knew that all the window shutters were open but there was no way to secure them without going outside, and she was not going outside, not for anything. All her nerve had buckled when she heard that metallic rattle. She finally noticed the telephone on the kitchen wall, and dialed a number before she realized there was no tone. The line was dead.
The knocking was gone. The rain was gone, too. Not like the storm had subsided, but like the sound of the world outside had been muffled or quilted over. As if the clouds overhead had hunkered down until they covered only the house. Nothing spoke or moved.
Beverly’s heart beat hard, and she swallowed dryly. She was listening with her whole body, stiff, aching. Faintly, she heard another sound: Scratching or scraping across the side of the house.
She opened the bedroom door and looked in. Outside the narrow window near the ceiling, the only thing visible was a cluster of dark clouds. Rivulets of water coursed down the glass.
Maybe it was over. Hope flickered inside her ribs and it hurt, like something broken trying to fly.
She heard the scraping again. This time it seemed softer, more muffled. She crept to the living room and looked at the door, the ceiling, and the window.
She turned toward the fireplace. And while she stared at the dry, cold center of brickwork, a thin stream of soot fell gently down, followed by another. With a scratching and grunting noise, something heaved its way down through the chimney, forcing out another quick stream of soot…
Knock Knock by S.P. Miskowski