Friday, May 1, 2009

Last Night

So I was sitting on my bed and typing in a Word document when there came a soft tap at the door. The cat, being more like a dog than a cat in its nature, bolted to the door to catch a glimpse of the unexpected intruder. Could he have barked, I'm sure he would have, but a subtle miaow sufficed. I slid feet to floor and paced the few feet across my studio apartment to the glass-paned door, but to my surprise, no one was there. I felt sure the tap had been real; the cat's response, above all, was enough to assure me of this. But there was no one on the outside patio, not a figure illuminated by the street lamp beyond, and with the quickness with which I'd been able to respond I felt sure any knocker would have at least still been in my yard upon my arrival at the door. To not even see a distant flickering of shadow was, then, quite unsettling.

Slightly puzzled and troubled, I left the door and returned to my typing. The cat remained at the door, gazing out, but I thought little of this for he is a cat who thinks he is an outdoor cat and often sits pining by windows. However, there may have been something to his watch, for barely a full minute had passed before I heard the tapping again, This time I did not rise from my work. I simply froze, and listened. And sure enough, I heard the quick, light tread of feet on concrete as someone--someone quite small from the sounds of it--slipped away into the night. The cat had not hissed, but his eyes were wild and his hair was raised as though in great alarm.

I debated what I could do. I could call and report a disturbance to the police. I would be going to bed sometime soon, after all, and it would not do to have some strange prankster tapping at my door all night. The light tread led me to believe this was a child, and perhaps he would be missed from home, so reporting the incident might be doing a favor to more than just myself. I could, of course, just ignore it and hope the perpetrator would grown bored and stop. This was the option I went for, and continued typing for the course of the next thirty minutes, hearing the soft knock at least seven times more in that span. But while I found I could peacefully ignore the minor tapping, the cat was having an altogether different reaction. With each tapping he grew more and more irritated and alarmed, and by the time the most recent knock had sounded on the door he was literally spitting, backing away from the door but not leaving it, as though both horrified and hypnotized.

It was this reaction that finally led me to take action. Scooping the cat up, I took him and shut him in the bathroom, away from the door. Then I slipped on my sandals and opened the door. It was a warm night, and a slight breeze stirred the thick air, though not enough to keep away the sweat. I could see no shadow on the lawn. I could hear no one breathing. Yet I knew, by common sense at least, that the knocker was out here somewhere, very near. So I rested a hand on one hip, and trying to sound authoritative, I said, "I know you can hear me, and I appreciate a good joke as much as the next person, but this has got to stop. If you keep it up, I will call the police."

There was nothing. Not a sound, except in the background I thought I could hear the sound of my cat from inside the apartment, miaowing and banging against the door in an effort to be let free.

"So we're going to try this again," I continued. "I'm going to go inside, and you're going to go home. We're both going to get a good night's sleep and laugh our heads off about this in the morning."

Again, the only answer I received was the night air, the long unmoving shadows on the lawn.

I turned back to the door and pressed down on the handle, which wouldn't give. I tried it again. I jiggled the handle. I peered closer at the door. It was quite blatantly locked; even the deadbolt was turned, which of course could only have happened from the inside.

It was about this time that something close to fear pricked around the edges of my body. All the tell-tale signs were there: an increase in heart rate, a cold sweat that had nothing at all to do with the weather. I had been standing not even two feet from the door, and yet someone had passed me and locked me out of my own apartment. A someone I had not heard or seen, nor even felt in the way one can usually sense another person is near: like when you're in the bathroom and you know the stall is occupied even though the person inside is silent and you haven't checked for feet under the door. All of my senses had failed me, including, it would seem, my common sense. I was now trapped outside my own apartment, without my phone, without any keys. Someone was inside there with all my stuff, and I was stuck outside. Someone was in there with my cat...

And that was when I realized that the sounds of frantic miaowing and pawing at the door had stopped. Other than my pitiful jiggling of the handle, the night was utterly silent.

"If you've done anything to my cat, I swear I'll kill you!"

I yelled it against the glass, but the words were beyond inadequate. I couldn't see anyone moving around inside. No one was looting the place. All the stuff within my range of vision remained untouched.

Why would someone break into an apartment if they had no use for the things inside it?

Again, options screamed at my mind... run to the neighbors. My apartment is in the basement of a house, but the people upstairs were on vacation. The nearest neighbors were at the end of a long gravel driveway off to the left of the house. I could make it there within minutes; we could call the police and sort this whole thing out that way. But that seemed too simple. It would be leaving the opportunity for the person to make an escape. I was afraid at this point, yes, but I was also quite angry; after failing to catch a glimpse of this person several times now, my pride would not let me leave without at least once seeing a face.

But how? The neighbors up above kept the spare key, and as I mentioned before, they were gone. The lock and bolt situation at the door made it a pretty impregnable entrance. I could break the glass on one of the panes and try unlocking it that way. Or I could simply break a window. But suddenly this mysterious person no longer seemed like a harmless child to me, and the thought of scattering shards of broken glass, something that could potentially be used as a weapon against me, didn't seem like a good idea. If only there was a way to hit it, but not shatter it...

And suddenly I knew. I knew what the stranger wanted.

I reached out a trembling hand and tapped, one two three, on the door.

Inside the apartment, a moment of absolute stillness. Then I heard that sound again of feet, this time on kitchen tile, though I could see absolutely no one and no thing in the entirety of the kitchen. My heart beating irregularly in my chest, speeding up and then nearly freezing in my panic, I knocked again. A third time. Sometimes I swear the person, or the thing, was near, investigating my presence. At other times I felt distinctly ignored. And after the seventh knock, the door swung open.

"Is that all you wanted?" I asked timidly, hoping not to be misunderstood. The thing I had mistaken for a nighttime breeze wavered translucently in the entranceway. I took that to be a yes. "I'll try to remember. To open the door to those who knock." My throat was tight as I said this. I could not fully see the thing, but now I could sense it. Inches from me, and it was not a pleasant sensation. Strong, and big. Like the kind of big that can crush you. I took a step back to let it pass.

I guess my words were satisfactory, because in a moment the nighttime noises returned, along with the frustrated noises of my cat. I slipped over the threshold and into my apartment, and found I could not breath again until the bolt was safely fastened and my cat was clutched tightly in my arms. He squirmed to be free almost instantly, but I held him tight. I looked in the bathroom, the closet, under the bed, moving in and out of every corner, examining the interior of every cupboard, but no traces of the invader remained. It was then I started really breathing, a bit too much, and too fast in my hyperventilating state, but breathing nonetheless.

In the morning, I looked all around for signs that it had been more than a dream, but I never found a thing. Not even fingerprints on the glass of the door.

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