Halloween Storytime: Knock to Enter
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door — Only this, and nothing more.' – 'The Raven', Edgar Allen Poe
After spending several years of my early childhood sharing a bedroom with two brothers, coming into a bedroom all of my own was a momentous event. It might have been little more than a glorified closet with hot-pink pebbledash walls (a misguided effort by my parents to designate it the 'girl's' room), but for the first time I had my own space. I filled the little shelves in my space-saving cabin bed with Choose Your Own Adventure and Goosebumps books carefully curated from local charity shops and hunkered in the cubby hole under my desk with friends conspiratorially as though it were a secret hideout. Apparently drunk on the sudden power of establishing my tiny empire, on my first day in residence, I also attached a small handwritten note to the outside of my door set off with red-crayoned warning signs: 'KNOCK TO ENTER'. Important business to be seen to and all that.
Nobody paid it any mind, of course. My brothers continued to burst in unannounced, and I continued to turn them away exasperatedly whenever I had friends around, like the world's whiniest and least intimidating bouncer. Privacy is in short supply in a house of six, after all. After a few days of such comings and goings, I all but forgot about the sign.
My bed faced away from the door, so I swivelled around to take in the hallway beyond my half-open door, but it lay in darkness, the inkier, more definite shapes of objects only just visible. The door did not open further, and no greeting or footsteps followed. I retreated further under my covers, heart seeming to hammer almost as loudly as the door had, before summoning the courage to spring from my adrenaline-warmed bed and scamper to the entrance of my room, where I flicked on the light switch, breath held. There was no one there.
I crept to my brothers' room along the hallway. They both lay in bed, apparently asleep and unresponsive to my entry and the fractionally increased sliver of light behind me. I whispered a tentative 'Hey, did anyone just come to my room?' only to be met with resolute silence disrupted only by the low, even breathing of the deeply asleep.
Unusually, my parents were downstairs in the garage that night, surveying and trying to patch up the damage from an unsettling incident earlier that day: someone had smashed the back window of my dad's car to steal a discarded but empty jacket, leaving a single brick and a hailstorm of glass shards in their wake. I doubt I could've recalled this discordant detail otherwise but remember it clearly in the way unfamiliar, frightening events bring their environment into sharper focus, the scope of my memory that night temporarily widened by my heightened senses.
I rushed into the cool yet welcoming light of the garage and breathlessly explained what I had experienced to my incredulous parents. My mum was questioning, but not dismissive, and escorted me back upstairs, calmly suggesting level-headed rationalisations. Perhaps I was dreaming.
'I was awake. I'm sure I was awake.'
Perhaps one of my brothers was playing a trick on me.
'No. They're asleep. I checked.'
Perhaps I had heard my baby brother in my parents' room kicking the wall of his crib in his sleep, as he sometimes did. She took me into her room and indicated towards the crib; as if on cue, my brother kicked its far wall restlessly. The sound was less solid, more rattly than I remembered.
'No. It didn't sound like that.'
We returned to my room, and I lightly knocked on the door experimentally. The sound was quieter than before but distinct and resonant – exactly as I remembered it.
'That's it. That's the sound I heard.'
By now my other two brothers were stirring. They groggily denied knocking on my door before lapsing back into sleep.
Having exhausted all apparent possibilities, my mum uttered a little prayer with me, enveloped me in her arms, then left an open Bible by my bed, a small, comforting ritual she performed whenever any of us felt scared, though whether to humor or protect me I wasn't sure. I returned to bed reluctantly, mildly reassured by the distant bustle and hushed voices of my parents downstairs. I lay awake for a long while afterwards, senses primed for the slightest of creaks and rustles, before my tiredness eventually overtook me.
Sometimes I wonder if the noise I heard was that strange reflex that wrenches you awake just as you're drifting between sleep and awake, like the simulacra of an alarm when you have nowhere to be. Only I'm quite sure I was fully awake, and it's strange that the sound should have been so eerily lifelike, seemingly in response to the sign when I hadn't been thinking of it – at least not consciously.
Other times, particularly when it's late and I'm the last one up, I wonder if my sign invited in some kind of negative energy, possibly attracted by the violence and greed – or desperation – of the car break-in. I've since read that doors and windows can act as portals, or channels, for energy, bridging the divide between the earthly and spiritual. If that's true, then, what came to my door that night? What did it want? And, most unsettling of all, did it let itself in?
Either way, besides running to my mum, the natural course of action for all manner of ills, before returning to bed that night, I did one last thing: I took down the sign and tore it into fragments so small the words were indecipherable, impossible to piece back together. I never heard the knocking again.
|Illustrations by Gustave Doré for 'The Raven', 1883. I urge you to view the others in their full glory here.|
For my other Halloween Storytime posts, click here. Had any spine-tingling experiences of your own? Let us know in the comments!