By Michael J. Brien
You hear the knock. Barely at first. Soft as a sparrow’s beak twisting a twig in its nest outside your bedroom window. Early morning. Sun rising.
It’s early evening when the knocking comes again, and this time it is harsher, knuckles intent on getting what they want—rousing the memory of the bum at your counter yesterday demanding you give him the beer he had no money for. It’s a sound you know all too well, its rhythm unrelenting.
You approach the door, test the handle. It is locked. What if it wasn’t? What then? Would you run away? Would you fight?
You remember last Thanksgiving’s dinner. Your sister brought the turkey, cooked a crisp golden brown. She placed it on her serving platter, asking you to carve it. You tried to cut through the joint at the leg with a flimsy steak knife, your grip slipping, slicing your thumb.
Your sister sighed. You didn’t have to look at her to know she was rolling her eyes. Making that disappointment face. The one that said, you’re an idiot, you’re useless, you’re nothing. Keeping your eyes fixed on the turkey, you watched drops of blood fall against the moistened breast meat. You waited for her to say something about Dad’s electric carving knife, about your ability to ruin everything. She stayed silent.
After she left, you vowed to remove all of the serrated-edge knives from the house. Nothing good could ever come from them.
You remember the stories that you have been reading in the daily paper—an elderly woman killed by an intruder; a blind man robbed and kicked to near death; a little girl found alone, screaming in the closet of her home; her mother gone out for only a moment but never coming back. A carving knife nowhere to be found in your home.
The door rattles from the heavy banging—fists pummeling the paneling of the impact-resistant door that you just purchased because the advertisement said that the engineered door offered greater protection against warping, cracking, and splitting.
The knocking, now a series of explosions.
You come back from the kitchen. You’ve found a single steak knife hidden below the dinner knives, weighing nothing at all in your right hand. You make your way down the off-white painted hall to the bottom of the stairs that you could take to go hide under the bed or in the closet of the spare room or perhaps quietly open the guest bedroom window, climb out on the roof, only to look down at the intruder.
But you don’t. You reach out for the deadbolt, twisting it open with your left hand, feeling the awkwardness of your right hand balancing the steak knife, fighting off the pain that suddenly takes you over, realizing that you will need to step back once the door is unlocked so that you might even have the slightest chance to swing your knife up and wide around the edge of the door to meet the monster who is hurtling headlong into your home, its hands at your throat, cutting off what you might have said—
You brace yourself. Remarkably, you stop running. Releasing the door as you fall, you close your eyes, recalling your own bloodied thumb.
The monster steps over you and makes itself at home.