Those That Knock

Morgen Knight

Travis Mill leaned the camouflage-pattern ten-gauge shotgun against the white-paneled attic wall and briefly glanced outside.  Night was going to be here soon—the blear source of daylight had moved behind the house—and that’s when things got hairy. Not that they were sunshine and sweet kisses during the day, but at night you had to tread softly. The creatures were nocturnal, for the most part. They ran around in the gray-pink version of sunshine that fell, but in single or small numbers. He’d watched them from the side of the window, careful to remain hidden. There might not be many, in the daytime, but there were certainly enough to halt any thought of walking out of here.

At night, their numbers surged. Travis had once counted over ten in a group as they’d searched around, hunting for people like him, people that had been quick enough to run into their houses and slam their doors behind them after The Light Show had started. He didn’t know how many survivors were in the homes on his street, but sometimes, after the crunching-knock stopped, he heard someone scream out. The first few times he’d heard death, it had made him shudder.  Now, he didn’t even notice it.

It had been three days since The Light Show. Each of those days had been long and tense. This was night number three. How many more could there be?

He walked over to the small, brown couch—barely long enough for him to lay out on—and sat down, looking at the TV and radio on the entertainment shelves his father had given him. Nothing worked anymore. The TV had went with the rest of the power, not too long after The Light Show, he guessed. He thought his father had a crank radio in his things someplace. It was probably under the stairs in the basement. There was a small closet there that was jam-packed with their outdoor/hunting gear. Everything outdoorsy that Travis owned was in there, save the Remington shotgun and a pair of Nikon binoculars. Luckily, they had been up here already. They had been birthday gifts, two weeks ago. The binoculars he’d used to watch Patty East out of four draped windows; now he watched these rocklike creatures; the shotgun felt like an answer. But to which question? Freedom or death?

Life had begun to crumble after the eruption. Mount St. Helens went with a bang, and every channel had broken with the news. Travis had been finishing his science homework—calculating centripetal acceleration for an eight gram ball. Boring crap, but Mr. Luvell wasn’t  the kind of teacher to overlook that. He was as serious as his comb-over when it came to assignments.

The Light Show had come with the roiling clouds, ash yet to descend. His TV was against the back wall. When the show started behind Travis, the bright flares engulfing the windows to his back had glared off the TV screen in square wedges. His room had four windows, each letting in light that  turned the room around with strange colors. His room was the attic; the only way up or down being a set of stairs, across the room. They went to the main floor hallway, the bathroom door right across from it.

The door at the bottom of the steps was closed, now.

When the bright flashes started, Travis had thought that it was a regular storm. Seattle was known for its rain. He never paid enough attention to the news to know if the weather man had called for one or not. He hadn’t seen the news bulletin about the volcano, either. He’d been sitting on his couch with his book in his lap when he noticed the light reflected off the TV. And it wasn’t only flashes of white, but blue and red and yellow. He’d gotten up and walked to the windows.

The first thing that he’d noticed was that there was no rain. No thunder, either. Hell, it hadn’t even looked like lightening to him. Clouds roiled the sky, but they weren’t normal clouds. The sky was liquid and undulating. White spots flared in quick sizzles, in purple and red and blue. The colors rolled along the sky like the wave of a sheet on a clothes line drawn by the wind.

He had never seen anything like it up close, but Travis had thought that he knew what the colors were: the Aurora Borealis. He had even seen pictures of it in Thorn’s science class. In them, though, the eldritch lights had been translucent and ghostly, like where grease has dripped down on a piece of paper. What he saw out of his window had been thick, like oil. He could have forgotten it was the sky and believed he was staring at an alien ocean if someone would have suggested it.

The atmosphere drew more people’s attention than Travis’s.

People had started to come outside all along the street. Lance Jenning from up the block had even stopped by Travis’s mailbox, his golden retriever shaking on the end of its black leash, head down on the dark pavement, paws scratching. That should have been a warning, he thought. Animals always have the heads-up before people. But nobody had seen it. One door would open and then another. People all around made it out onto their front lawns, all of them looking up. Across the street were Patty and Chris East. They had moved in last year after Claire Bonnet died of heart failure of one sort or another. Travis didn’t really care to know the details much. She’d been a mean widow, and he was still young, with the world laid out before him like a drunken prom date. He did like the East’s though. Patty, anyway. She never wore a bra and always wore shirts with fabric just thick enough to keep her nipples from showing their color. How could a woman like that go unrespected?

After that, he saw his parents walking from the bottom of the window out to the street, where the street light fell. Others were joining them.

It was cool outside. A breeze had started, but no rain. He couldn’t even smell it. The sky was still shifting with its fabulous display. Travis didn’t go out to the street with his parents. He stood in the front yard about where his mother would put the sprinkler down in the summer when the heat index was seeing how high it could count and she didn’t want the grass to brown. Everybody was looking up. The intensity of the colors was enough to require sunglasses or a sliver-squint when they became more constant than intermittent blooms.

Travis had found himself looking around. There was darkness, light, darkness. It was odd how the shadows shrank and grew. With the real intense flares, a few people would gasp or comment like it was a show put on by the fair, but nobody was talking. If they said much, it came with a whisper, like they didn’t want to break the spell. The silence had scared him. The silence felt unnatural, like the absent thunder. He realized that his own heart was racing. That he was scared. Had been. But the fear pricked at such a basic level that it hadn’t worked its way up to his mind until then. All of his hair stood on end. The muscles of his body twitched as if letting him know that they were ready to react.

When Mrs. Wimma fell, not crying out but dropping heavily, Travis didn’t notice it. Apparently no one else did either, because she laid alone in the darkness of the street. Mr. Jenning’s dog began to cry out. It’s violent barks made Travis internally jump.

He didn’t notice that things were falling from the sky (the sky is falling, the sky is falling) at first. Didn’t realize that rock was what had struck Mrs. Wimma until much later, when he thought about all of this, finding things in his memory that he hadn’t seen when he’d lived it. Like the thumps the falling masses made when they hit the grass. A few slammed down in the street, crumbling.

“Almost looks like daylight, doesn’t it?”

Travis turned. He saw the same loose look on Charlie Field’s face that he felt inside. Charlie, never Mr. Field, lived next door. Always had. He was Travis’s father’s friend. “Close enough at times,” Travis whispered dryly. “Got any idea what it is?”

“News said Mount St. Helens blew big. Real big,” Charlie said, then looked over at his daughter. She was standing silently beside him, her round, unflattering glasses pressing down on her nose, glancing at Travis and then looking away. Her brown hair was pulled back in its usual hurried manner. Her clothes made her look like a skinny boy. She shrugged at her father.

“Good evening, Alice,” Travis said absently, looking up as a puddle of pink accreted to a pond and then flashed out into an ocean.

“Hey,” she mumbled. It’d made Travis smile, because he knew that she didn’t care much for him. Well, that was the way she always acted. They were the same age, but they were vastly different. As kids, they had been close—she had been more tomboy and less demure nerd. He could even remember giving her flowers and how his mother had gushed over the act so profusely that he’d sworn to never give a girl flowers again. Now Alice barely spoke two words to him, and whenever he was at her house, if they were in the same room, she turned away. She barely spoke to him if engaged conversation. It was weird.

“I didn’t know a volcano could do this” Travis said to Charlie.

“They said that it was a major explosion. I think it’s still going.” Charlie looked up. “Can you believe that what’s inside the Earth?”

“You think this’ll drop orange and pink rain?” Travis smiled.

The joke seemed to miss Charlie. “No, I hope not.”

The thudding increased. Travis, who had set it at the back of his mind, started to look around. His vision was compromised from staring up. A window shattered somewhere down the street, grabbing the curiosity of a few people in the groups. The dog began screaming raw howls. A woman, hit with something, cried out. A man fell, bleeding from his up-turned face.

What was falling wasn’t rain or hail, or ash he finally noticed. A few dropped in the yard near him—one trimming his head. They looked like gray or white rocks. Small ones. They hit, bounced on the grass, and settled. How could it be raining rocks?

“Oh!” a woman cried out.

Travis turned. His mother had been hit in the head by one of the rocks. A rill of blood shown in the street light. Then the street light was hit hard enough to break. Glass popped. A single blue spark jumped out, looking feeble against the sky’s expressions. The rocks began to fall with more enthusiasm, knocking loudly against the roofs and rolling off, denting cars, pelting mail boxes. A few of the rocks were softball sized. Increasing to football. Then basketball. Some of the people scattered, but far more got beneath the protective canopy of trees, slipped in a car, or stood beneath the front eve of their house.

“Don’t,” Charlie said, grabbing Travis’s shoulder as the sixteen year old started to go to his mother, squeezing painfully. “You two in the house.” A tennis ball rock struck Charlie in the chest. He stepped back—an oomph! escaping him. Another hit Travis in the shin, making him hop on one leg, rubbing at it. It felt like there was blood. “In the house. I’ll help your father!” Charlie yelled, stumbling out toward the road with his hand up to protect his face. Travis’s father was lifting his wife up off the ground where she sat, dazed. The rocks were really beginning to fall now—you could see five or six hitting near each other every second—and he was shielding his wife, absorbing as many impacts with his back as he could.

Travis didn’t want to go in, but he had authority against him. The Light Show, as he would come to call it, had cut down to a few bulb flashes in the distance. Nothing over head. There still wasn’t any thunder as far as he could hear, walking inside the front door, but there was a rumble on the roof and from outside, where the rocks hit. Sometimes shattering, sounding like thunder. It was like God has picked up a handful of mountains, crushed them and tossed them down like a man on a beach would toss a handful of sand.

Travis had stood by the front window; Alice by the front door, behind the screen. That was when the power went out. Maybe for the entire city, but definitely for the block. The darkness was deep, and the rocks filled it with their thunderous  rumble. It’d reminded Travis of shaking a bag of marbles in Matt Klensky’s face.

“What is this?” Alice asked.

“I don’t know!” Travis spat, looking for his mother, but seeing only this ink-well blackness. “You’re the one who reads so much. You take a guess!”

“Don’t yell at me. I’m scared, too. This isn’t normal.”

He inched his face closer, hoping to adjust his vision to the sudden dark, or even that the aberrant lightening—that wasn’t lightening at all—might rev back up and show him something.

The rocks’ thunder didn’t taper off, but instead came to a screeching halt. The sound vanished so suddenly that for a moment Travis didn’t know it was gone. He went right on hearing it until Alice spoke:

“Travis?”

“Don’t go out yet,” Travis said. He couldn’t see a lick of her, but he knew that if he were standing by the door, his hand would already be on the latch. Someone outside yelled out, asking if everyone was okay. Another guy acknowledged he was. Without faces or scenery, it was strange to hear them.

After a beat, Alice said, “My dad’s out there.”

The glass felt cold against his brow. “Don’t think that I forgot that. Mine, too. Just wait, okay? They’ll call for us if they want us.” He didn’t know how to make it any clearer than that. Charlie had ordered them in. Everything inside of him wanted to go running out there, because he felt that something worse was coming. Later, while Alice cried, he would hate himself for this decision. Maybe he could have changed some of what was about to happen, but he hadn’t.

He listened for the screen door to open. If he had been at the door, he might have gone ahead and walked out. Travis wanted to run out there and drag his mother in before anything more could happen. But the guys knew what they were doing.

“I think I hear them,” Alice said. They would never know for sure.

The sky pulsed with bright white, blanching everything. The light held long enough for the street to look like a bled-out version of day, and he had to turn his face away from the glass. A moment of darkness, that seemed deepened by a factor of ten because of the light, followed. What the sky did next was almost like a game, Travis thought.

Pink, purple, blue, yellow, green, blue-green—it rapidly fired off an array of colors. The interstices of darkness became odd due to the abundance of light. No sound. Then a car or two’s alarms were sounding from over on the next street.

It could have been time, the air, the lights, Travis would never know. But during the display, the larger rocks strewn abundantly across the many yards began to pulse.

Most of the moving rocks were the size of basketballs. They beat like a stolid heart, each of their own rhythm. He kept expecting pus or black oil to run out like blood. In the canopy of light, he watched them change, too scared to move.

Red, purple, blue, green, white—the lights slowed, and the rocks were not rocks anymore. Alice saw it too, and screamed. Her voice was the first Travis heard scream that night. It broke his paralysis, but it was too late to do anything. And do what really?

The rocks had grown into figures. They looked like small people. Children, really, about five or six years old. Their small hands had three fingers that came to points. The color of their bodies remained a grayish white, like the rocks had been. You could see this best when the sky went white. At red, blue, green, yellow and so on, the tincture mangled slightly. These things… had pointed foreheads that looked tough and bodies like smooth stone.

Travis didn’t know what they were or how the hell they could be, but, when they began to attack, he knew that he would die. That his parents were dead. He accepted this coldly, pushing it deep inside where it would remain for years, if he had years. “Get in here! Get in!” he screamed at the glass.

When Mr. Jenning had his throat ripped out by two of the sharp-fingered creatures, and his dog’s spine was being dug into, Travis pulled the curtains closed. The front door was open, and Alice stood right there. He ran over to her, jumping the couch, and yanked her back. The door slammed. He engaged the locks. Both of their parents had already been killed.

“My father!” she screamed as Travis pushed her back, but her face looked dead, like land sun-baked and overused for so many years not even weeds sprout.

“You saw what I saw,” Travis’d said. He really hoped that she hadn’t. The creatures had reached their parents—he shook it away. That wasn’t what he had to think about. “Be quiet and go up to my room,” he’d said. It was the safest place that he could think of; it was the farthest from the…things. Alice went up without a word. Travis waited a minute and then followed. At every window, the weird light was seeping around the borders of curtains.

***

That was days ago. He looked at the TV screen to see the reflection of the windows off the glass. Alice was laying on his bed. He didn’t think she was asleep; she wasn’t tossing around. When she did that, he had to be ready to wake her up or she’d start to scream out again. Those creatures were still out there; Travis had watched them go in two houses, climbing up on the wooden doors and banging their sharp heads against them until the crunch-crack of their blows stopped and a hole had been busted through. He didn’t know what drew them to which house. Maybe they were slowly checking them all. Not long after each invasion, there were screams.

“Are you hungry?” Travis asked.

There was movement on the bed beneath the four windows. The gray-pink light had a somber, absent quality about it. Smoke and ash still blanketed the sky, the ground. “Not yet. Are you going to eat?” The ash had started not long after the show had ended. Not much had fallen.

Travis shook his head. He could see on the dull TV screen that Alice was sitting up in the bed, a sheet rumpled up around her legs. The far left window was cracked open every morning so that they could draw in cool air, and closed every night. All of the food that they had gotten was stacked together in the corner by the bookshelves. He had grabbed everything he could find, two days ago, that wasn’t going to go bad and didn’t need to be cooked, from the downstairs kitchen. It was a depressing pile. Every time he looked at it, he remembered that this had a closer ending to it then you usually look for. If not from the rock bastards, then starvation. They had a few cases of bottled water that his mom had bought. She had been big on clean water. Bottles in the fridge, filters on the sinks.

“Got any new ideas?” Travis asked. He stood up and walked by the bed so that he could look out of the window from the side. Alice had her glasses on, not really looking at anything.

“Why do you keep asking me that? How should I know what you don’t?”

Travis moved closer to the glass. There were so many holes dug all over the ash-covered yards. “You’re suppose to be smarter than me.”

“Why? We have pretty much the same classes. Had, I guess. I don’t think that they’ll be sending buses through to pick us up anytime soon. We’re cut off. All roads closed.”

“But you read books and crap. I don’t. As soon as the assignment’s done, I close the book and look for a game or a party,” Travis said.

The street was vacant now. Not even the bodies of those killed were around. The only indication that any untoward occurrence had transpired were the ambiguous shapes made by gouts of fallen blood on the concrete. The yards of all of the houses were different, too. Small holes had been dug throughout them like a crazy man with a metal detector had come along. Small mounds of dirt surrounded the bowling ball sized holes. Travis didn’t know how far they went down, but it was from these, the main populace of the rock-things emerged at night. The morning after The Light Show, they had already been dug. “Kinda sucks don’t it? Parties are over and you never went to one,” Travis said. He hadn’t intended it to sound mean.

“I know that,” Alice mumbled. She was a shy, restrained girl, wholly different from the tomboy that Travis had grown up with. After her mom had died, all of that energy had inverted.

“Those things had to be in the Earth, right? Mount St. Helen’s ejected them into the air? Could a volcano do that?”

Alice shrugged. “I read a book that suggested the earth is hollow and a civilization exists beneath us.”

“Was Johnny Depp in that movie?”

“No,” Alice smiled. It was light, but it was the first one he had seen since the start.

The sun was all gone now, all of that gray-pink was turning into deep black. Travis reached over and slid the opened window down slowly. The shotgun was within reach against the wall. He had loaded it with slugs himself. That would stop a few of those things if they came through the door. On the second day, Todd Fern from two houses up had come running down the street, handgun blazing. Travis didn’t know where Todd thought he was going to make it to, but he did end up puttting down about seven of those things. The bullets went straight into the rock-monsters’ bellies, but bounced off everything else, chipping their bodies like…well, rocks. But those gut shots went in, bursting morbid holes in the strange flesh, and a green, snotty liquid had oozed out. Todd had made it out of Travis’s view before they had gotten him (Travis was sure that they had). None of the bodies were left out. Gone like the bodies of his parents, and Alice’s father, and all of the others.

If they came for him and Alice, they would come at night, he figured. He had heard the sick crunching-knocks as the things had torn their way into various front doors. He used to think that the scariest things in the world were the silent phantoms that lurk out of your peripheral vision like shadows. Car wrecks, stroke, lightening even. The unexpected tragedies that could be accidents or divine intervention. Those things were scary, but he had been wrong about them being the scariest things. The scariest were the things that could come brazenly to your door and knock. And what’s more, some of them might even wait for you to answer.

“It’s getting too dark to read,” Alice said, standing up. She stretched, arms over her head, and popped her back.

“Maybe they’re demons. Maybe God lost,” Travis said pensively.

“I have to go pee. I should have went before now. Do you think it’s too late?”

Travis held his hand up in front of the window’s glass, cupping it. The pit of the palm was dark. He looked at her and shrugged. That was all that he had to say. She went over to the walk-in closet where a large pot sat. Going down to the restroom was a risk, but during the day, they thought it was worth it, as long as you were quiet. When the sun went down, the story changed. Why play with a wild dog? Travis had brought his mother’s pot up on Alice’s suggestion.

He watched out of the side of the window as the rock-things crawled from their holes and scattered. Fear used to choke him; it’s funny what a person can acclimate to. There was a dull tingle along his spine as they came and came—he knew that they would find him and Alice some night, that or they’d starve to death—but it didn’t freeze him anymore. There was no one that he could think of to save them. Depending on how far this was spread, there might not be anybody. What if it was the whole world?

He thought about this and about how they were going to die, often. When Alice came back, standing beside him and looking out, Travis did an impulsive thing. He grabbed her and kissed her, a simple moan of surprise escaping her. His eyes closed, and he put his hand on the back of her head. At first he was only kissing her, and then she was kissing him back. There was nothing romantic about it. Travis knew that he was going to die, the question was how. And how did he want to slide along in his last days? What he was tired of was being afraid, of arguing with Alice and then listening to her cry, knowing that he wanted to cry himself but didn’t remember how. What he really wanted was a thoughtless moment. He wanted to lose himself in her. He wanted to feel alive and feel nothing simultaneously. Maybe he could even find a moment of hope that didn’t require a shotgun.

When Travis finally pulled back, Alice asked, “Why did you do that?”

He stepped over by the couch. The room was darker, now; there was no longer light from stars he couldn’t name. “It’s the end of the world, Alice. I didn’t know if you have been kissed before. I’d never kissed you. I didn’t think you’d be upset. Sorry”

After a pause. “So you’re the savior of vestal lips? Well, I have been kissed before,” she heisted. “Frankly, Travis you’re an ass.”

He scratched at his blond head in the dark. She was right, that was an arrogant move. “But we’re dying,” he said.

***

A noise woke him up three nights later. Sleep was thin anymore, Alice only had to say his name once. He didn’t know how late it was, but everything was still very dark. They sat by lamplight, run off batteries, kept in the closet so only slivers of light spilled out. She stood over him. He blinked, the thin gauze of sleep being swept away like a thin web in a dusty corner, and looked at her. Even in the dark he could make her out. She was in her bra and underwear. A thin shape with a girl’s body, awkward and sad.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“It’s the end of the world, Travis,” she said, nervously. “I thought about that, and you were right. Everything is gone now, I never even really did much. And my dad really liked you.” She paused. She was always scared, now. “I don’t want to die.”

He could hear a loose vibration in her words like she was as apt to cry out as laugh hysterically. She reached down and took his hand. The direction of this was clear. When she got his hand on her belly, he almost pulled it back. Instead he kissed her. Everyone needs someone, right? There would be no others. One last act of life. He pulled her onto the couch with him, her body shaking. She never said a thing as Travis continued. The act—her first, his last—was quick, painful, and embarrassing. It did not blot out tears. What it did was allow the desperation of their situation to rush down on each of them, clearer now. Inevitable. Afterwards, she lay beside Travis and dryly wept. She was kind enough to do it quietly.

He slept.

***

A noise jolted him away from the book. The sun was going out, now, in its gray-pink glory. The pink had been stronger today, as it had been getting over the last few. When he jumped up, Alice stirred on the floor where she’d slept since that night. It made her feel safer, she’d said.

“What is it?” she asked. She didn’t peek out the window much anymore.

“Can’t you hear that?” Travis had on his boxers. The shotgun was against the wall. A simple thought blew through his mind as he grabbed it. I was wrong, he thought. The rock-monsters weren’t going to catch him in darkness; they were coming now. He could hear the knocking-crunch against the front door. The floor carried the striking vibrations to his feet, where they climbed his legs and made his balls tighten.

“Are we going to die?” Alice asked, frantic. She was up on her knees, looking at the steps across the room. They both stank; they were out of food and nearly water, too. Dirty, tired, and afraid.

The grinding bite ceased. Travis’s grip on the shotgun loosened. He held his breath. The respite was short lived. When the sound resumed, it was much closer. It was at the bottom of the stairs. How? If his bedroom door hadn’t been closed, Travis knew that they would already be up here. Looking out of the window, he saw dozens outside. There was no place for him to go. He didn’t care what they were anymore. Travis knew that he was dead. Alice didn’t stand a chance either.

“I don’t want to die!” she started screaming at the steps, the tail of her long shirt, taken from his closet, crumpled up in her hands. Flashing her dirty panties at him. Her face was contorted. Tears leapt free. They couldn’t be far now. The bedroom door wasn’t as sturdy as the front. “I don’t want to die!” She spun, facing the stairs, but held her eyes closed.

Travis lifted the shotgun and aimed it at the back of her head. As long as she didn’t turn around, he thought that it would be easier. There was a shell in here for her, a few for the things that knocked, and a final statement for himself. He’d known it would come to this: The Answer.

As Travis aimed, his finger began to pull the trigger. In the background, Alice was screaming that she didn’t want to die, and the knocking, gravely, became the sound of broken wood.

Advertisements
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: