Dan kept his head down, he could hear them thudding at the door over the music that was playing through his headphones. It was only a few more hours and they’d be gone and he could have some peace again. The thudding became frantic, intense then stopped. Dan looked up and slowly removed his headphones, there was silence. His heart started to beat faster, something was wrong, this had never happened before. It had been the same, ever since he was a child, that constant endless banging, begging to be let in until dawn came and it finally stopped. He looked at the clock on his computer, it was three AM, dawn was still a few hours away. He stood and slowly moved towards the door, trying to be as quiet as possible. He took a few deep breaths then looked through the peephole, the thudding had returned but this time it was his heart. He felt light headed, sweat covering his entire body, but there was nothing outside his door.
He had never seen them, never looked, never wanted to look. When he was a child he had screamed for his parents, who came running, and, at first, when they appeared the thudding stopped, but it always returned once they left until soon their presence made no difference. No one else heard it, no one else seemed to see the door as it shuddered under each impact. He had learned to keep it to himself, instead telling people he just had a weird sleep pattern. A few hours in the evening, then up at twelve as the banging started and a few hours after dawn before he had to get up for work. It made social events difficult, but not impossible. It had followed him everywhere, friends houses, even workplaces when he tried night shifts.
Dan’s hand reach out for the doorknob, he didn’t realise until the cold metal hit his palm, he snatched his hand back as though it were burnt. He couldn’t open the door, even if it stopped they could be waiting, hiding, some kind of trick. Why would they get bored now, after almost twenty four years? No, something else was going on, he just didn’t know what. He moved away from the door and went back to his computer, he slipped his headphones over his ears and focused on the music. Dawn eventually came but the banging didn’t return.
The next night was the same, silence, the door seemed to take on a looming, foreboding presence, taunting him with its stillness. The silence was worse than the banging, at least when there was the noise he knew they were there and that he would be safe once he didn’t open the door. Now however, who knew? They could burst through the windows, they could be trying to lull him into a false sense of security, waiting until one night when he steps outside after midnight having forgotten the things that tormented his youth.
It took a few weeks before he began to become comfortable with the silence. He would doze off, then wake with a start by phantom noises, only to roll over and fall back asleep once he confirmed they were only dreams. Despite his changing sleep patterns he always made sure to be home before twelve, though it was never really that difficult of a thing to do, everyone who knew him knew he would never stay out later than that. As months began to pass he felt a newfound sense of freedom, he could leave the house whenever he wanted, stay out as late as he wanted and it would be fine. The fears started to bleed away, he didn’t fret about the time, worried that he would be trapped inside a bar or club when the banging started and forced to leave when they closed a few hours later but all too far from the light of dawn. What ever had been following him almost his entire life seemed to be gone, he was finally free.
Dan woke with a start as the pounded started again. It had been almost seven years since he had heard it. In that time he had married and had a child, with another on the way. A second after the banging came the baby started to cry. He rolled out of bed, already awake and alert and went to comfort her. The banging continued, every time he managed to settle Ruth the banging would increase in intensity, causing her to scream and cry. He didn’t know if it had come back for him, his daughter or both. His wife slept through the night, occasionally stirred by Ruth’s cries, but she was not disturbed by the banging.
Janice, his wife, was starting to become concerned, Ruth would no longer sleep through the night, though the crying had stopped, she could not settle. The banging had increased in intensity until it sounded as though a battering ram was being used on their door. For Dan it was maddening, he could no longer listen to music during the night to drown out the sound, it was too loud and he was too fearful of something happening to Ruth or Janet.
Dan sat in the hotel room, waiting. He had told Janet he was going on a short business trip, two nights, that was all. He sat on the edge of his bed, the TV was on but he wasn’t watching it. He was waiting, counting down the minutes. Finally midnight struck, there was silence, then the banging started. He let out a brief breath, it was still him they were after. Perhaps Ruth could only hear it because she was a baby, just one of those things. He slipped his headphones on and, feeling more relaxed than he had in months, Dan waited for it to stop. The next morning Janet raved about how well Ruth had slept, right through the night, no crying, no tossing and turning. Dan felt a painful pang in his chest. Could he do that to his daughter? Make her suffer for god only knew how long?
That night he sat on the edge of the bed waiting, he knew what he had to do. He had to protect Ruth. The banging started right on time, he stood in front of the door, hand resting on the handle. He breathed in deeply and slowly pulled the handle down, before he could lose his nerve he ripped the door open.
Janet was terrified. She hadn’t heard from Dan since the night before and that was completely unlike him. Ruth slept in her crib, snoring gently. It was getting close to midnight, he said he would be home at eight at the latest. Janet decided then that if midnight passed and there was no sign of him she would call the police. All day she had been trying to reassure herself, telling herself that she was over reacting, that he was probably just swamped with work and getting packed, but even when he was swamped he would take the time to send her a quick text. She held her phone in her hand, watching as it counted down. Midnight struck, she started dialling, before she could call Ruth started crying again. Janet put down the phone and went to her daughter, she thought they were finally past this. As she tried to settle Ruth she rang the police.
A few hours later there was a knock on the door, Ruth’s crying became louder as Janet went to open it, the police promised they’d send someone out, warning her that it might take a while. Janet looked through the peephole and saw two officers, as she opened the door Ruth’s crying reached fever pitch. The door opened and silence fell, it was deafening.