That night he was in and then they d r a g g e d him into the .
“Stop it, stop kept pushing and pushing tight confined couldn’t breathe
pounded and pounded and pounded and pounded and pounded and pounded and
the key the door the key the door
and then he woke up.
He couldn’t remember what he’d dreamt, except that he was all alone in a tight space and he couldn’t breathe. He remembered trying to move, but he was completely encased inside of a space so small that he couldn’t bend his knees. And he remembered two tall, dark figures dragging him in there and locking the door.
In the morning he had a horrible ache in the pit of his spine and on the balls of his knees. Though he’d just woken up, he felt exhausted. For a long time just laid in bed not thinking of much of anything at all. Then the alarm on his cell phone went off and he forced himself out of bed.
He went to the washroom, took a clozapine pill from the medicine cabinet inside the mirror and washed it down with a glass of water. He counted the pills to make sure he’d been compliant, but he hadn’t missed a dose. Then he put them back in the cabinet and went back downstairs.
He drank his coffee standing in the living room, watching the world out the window. He tried sitting in the big bay window, but he felt exposed, like he was on display in a glass cage for the whole world to gawk at. He was wearing a pair of sweatpants he’d picked up off his floor and an oversized white shirt with an old brown stain. He kept imagining people walking by and talking about him, saying that he didn’t take care of himself, that he was filthy and lazy and disgusting. He didn’t hear the voices, but the thought left him feeling unsettled and awful.
Instead he stood at the farthest corner of the room, where they’d only be able to see him if they looked for him. He watched some children play road hockey with a tennis ball in the middle of the road. They’d set up stacks of books as their goal posts. Whenever one of them scored he’d leap into the air with his fist raised like the ending of the Breakfast Club. It made Brennan laugh a little to watch them.
Then the Egg Man came out of his house. He walked in front of them, his back to Brennan, blocking his view. The scraggling grey hairs around his bald patch seemed to twist and contort like worms. The rolls of fat on his stomach spilled out over a belt tied too tight. He looked like a man made of putty, like he was boneless, like goo poured into clothing that barely held it upright.
For the longest while he just stood there alone on the sidewalk watching them. Then he darted his head back at Brennan and whispered They’re not your kids.
Brennan hurried out of the room.
He headed into the kitchen, where the walls could hide him from the eyes outside. He had to pass by the basement door on the way, and the sound of the beating fist was coming through more furiously than ever before. The door was rattling and it sounded like it could shake off of its hinges at any second. He forced himself to ignore it.
Brennan drank the rest of the coffee slowly, his back against the wall and his knee bent up. To anyone else, he would be the picture of relaxation, but he was shaking inside. He was practised at this now. Whenever he could hear too much he would hold himself in a calm, still position, as though he was just savouring the slow moments of life, until he could handle it again.
He could still hear it when he finished the last drop, but it didn’t bother him as much anymore. He rinsed the cup in the sink, went up the stairs, and started work.
* * *
It was two in the afternoon when he realized he hadn’t type a single thing. He had a rough outline for the manual, and he had reworked the table of contents in FrameMaker ten times, but he didn’t have a single word of real content ready. When he caught himself, he was searching Google for the last resident of his home. Even there he hadn’t had any success.
He saved what he had and shut down the program. He told himself he’d put in extra time tomorrow. Then he went back online and back to looking up ways to find a previous resident.
The knocking started again. He hadn’t really noticed it had stopped until it came back. It was different this time – just three short raps, unhurried and calm. Somehow that unnerved him even more. It was like it was inviting him now, trying to lure him down the stairs.
He hovered his hands over the keyboard, barely even breathing, just listening. There was another knock. Five raps this time, quicker than the last, but still calm and inviting. It sounded closer than the ones from before. There was a lightness to it, too, like it was beating against a softer wood now.
He looked at the door of the room he was in and realized it was closed. He watched it, nervous and uneasy, waiting.
Then the doorbell rang and he felt like a fool. It was just a real person at the front door, probably confused why he wasn’t answering.
He walked over to the window and looked down. The Egg Man was standing at the door, a paper bag between his arms. He was standing completely still, just staring forward, not moving at all. There was something about that man that made Brennan feel hollow, alone and vulnerable. It made him feel ill just to look at him.
The Egg Man turned his head slowly and deliberately toward the big bay window. He seemed to be searching the living room for something, but he barely moved to do it. Then, after a moment, he turned around and walked away.
Brennan closed the blinds and backed away from the window, caught by a sudden dread that the Egg Man might look up and see him. He shifted himself into the corner next to the window where his silhouette through the blinds wouldn’t expose him. He sat down, pretending to relax. He crossed a leg over his knee, tapped his fingers on his arm, and waited to feel comfortable again.
A moan came from the basement that almost sounded like relief, like the thing on the other side of the locked door had been waiting for the Egg Man to leave. It fell into a set of shaking whimpers, just wordless cries like an expression sadness and loneliness. The fury from before was absent now. Brennan was struck by the notion that the sounds were being made by something that had never learnt a single word of the English language. He felt sure of it, suddenly.
He caught himself and tried to remember that it wasn’t real. He whispered “stop, stop, stop” like before, but there was no conviction in it this time. There was a thought in the back of his mind that he was trying to hold back that was screaming at him now: what if it was real? What if there really was someone trapped behind the door?
He tried remember the sound of the knocking, tried to identify something different about the real one at the front door that the one in the basement didn’t have, but there was nothing he could pinpoint.
Then he listened to the moaning. It was quiet now, so muffled between the floorboards that he could imagine it was the house settling. Then it was disturbed by a manic, wordless cry of total anguish. The voice sounded harsh and thin, like the sound had struggled through a shredded trachea and pierced at its throat the whole way up.
And then it stopped.
He went completely still. He tried to search for any kind of noise, but the house was completely silent.
He couldn’t be sure how long he sat there, motionless. It was a single moment stretched out over an endless of expanse of time, passed in a breath. When it was over, he knew it was time to go down to the basement.
He went slow, sure he’d miss some indistinct clue over the sound of his own footsteps should they hit too hard against the floor. From the top of the staircase, the steps seemed to lead into a total darkness. The light from the surrounding rooms revealed no more than the first few steps. Beyond that was a impenetrable, inky pool of black.
He pulled down the light chain, but the bulb made only the slightest pretence of illumination. There was a burning glow at the filament that died before it passed the glass and uncovered no more than the removed light seeping in from the kitchen.
He moved into the darkness, slow and uneasy. By the time his foot hit the cold hard concrete of the floor, he was completely blind. There was no light sifting through the cracks of the door.
He stepped carefully through the darkness, his hand outstretched and searching. There was a horrible chill in there that slid through his pores and tightened around his bones. A sudden vibrating noise sounded to his right and he stopped dead in his tracks and he whirled to face it, but it was only the heater kicking in.
When he reached the door, he could still feel splintered cracks in the wood. He traced his fingers along them, but he couldn’t be sure if anything had changed. A screw on one of the hinges had been pushed so far out that it slipped free at his touch, but he couldn’t be sure it hadn’t been that way before.
“Is there somebody in there?” He shouted it into the darkness. “I don’t want to hurt you. I want to help. Is there somebody on the other side of the door?”
There was no answer.
He turned back and followed the wall to find Richard’s tool kit. He had to run his hands along exposed insulation that felt like shattered shards of glass scraping against his fingers, but he managed to find it. He knelt down, clacked back the latches and felt the tools inside.
He heard footsteps. He was sure of it. There were footsteps coming from behind the locked door.
When he looked the light was seeping through the cracks in the door frame once more. There were two spots below the door where the light was obscured, and when they moved he knew for sure they were feet.
“Hello!” Brennan called wildly at the door. “I’m not here to hurt you! Just answer me! Hello!”
He thought he heard a gasp calling back, but he couldn’t be sure. Then the feet through the cracks scurried out of the light.
Brennan inched forward slowly and quietly, like he was trying not to scare away a frightened animal. “It’s okay,” he said, quieter now, “It’s okay.”
There was an electric pop behind him, and the light overhead came back to its slight life. The room was aglow once more and, though dimly, he could see the door now. The faint outline of the crossed planks seemed to be sending a planned message. He was caught by this overwhelming certainty that he shouldn’t take a single step further.
When he turned back, the light was swinging back and forth. At its furthest breadth it landed on Richard’s shovel directly, almost deliberately.
He took Richard’s shovel and slammed it into the door. The kickback caught him off-guard and he nearly dropped it as the impact rippled through the wood and rung in his hands. There was a crack, but it was still thin.
He slammed the shovel again, but now it stopped short. There was a metallic clang that caught him off guard and the door pushed back against him, stronger than he could have expected. The handle of the shovel was vibrating in his hands.
There was something else blocking the way.
He took a hammer and a screwdriver from the tool kit. He used the screwdriver like a chisel, jamming it into the hole the shovel had made and beating at the head with the hammer until chunks of wood fell loose. Then he tore them free with his hands.
It was steel. There was a sheet of cold, solid steel behind the door. The shovel had barely even scraped it when it hit.
He reached out and touched the scratch the shovel had left behind. Tiny jagged splinters of steel pushed against his flesh. Then he felt something else. Something brushing against his finger in a most unnerving way.
When he pulled his hand away there was a black larva, wiggling on the tip of his finger. Its sticky underbelly dragged across his skin until he flicked it away.
Then there were hundreds of them. For a second it almost seemed to be a pool of black ooze spilling out of the crack in the wood, but he could see the movements of the individual insects squirming their way through the stampede. Black worms, larvae, maggots, beetles and flies, packed so tight that some were climbing over each other to get through. A hoard of them were crawling out of the hole and there didn’t seem to be any end to them.
Brennan let the shovel drop, ran up the steps and out of the house. He could feel a phantom touch of the bugs crawling on his skin, brushing hairy appendages along the edge. He knelt down on the ground and ran his hands through the grass, trying to wash them clean in the dew, but there was nothing there.
The Egg Man was there when he looked up. He was on his lawn, watering it again, just staring at him. He turned off the hose and started walking toward Brennan. There was a stench on him like rotting meat, and Brennan found himself stumbling backward unconsciously.
“Hi,” The Egg Man said, extending a big sweaty palm for a shake. “Welcome to the neighbourhood.”
Brennan just stared at him.
The Egg Man let his hand fall back to his side. “We saw you were moving in yesterday. Anna dropped by today to say hello.”
His spine stiffened. He started to shift toward the door.
“I guess you weren’t in. We would’ve dropped by yesterday, but I know how much work it can be to unpack. Anna didn’t want to bother you while you were getting settling in.”
The word “What?” slipped out of Brennan’s mouth, but The Egg Man just tried to pretend like he didn’t understand.
“Why do you keep saying that?” Brennan said.
He stepped back to the door slowly. He slid his hand up to the handle behind his back.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I know what you mean,” The Egg Man said. He looked at Brennan like he was expecting him to say something, but when he didn’t he went on. “Well, point is, it’s a great neighbourhood. Anna’s sure you’ll love it here.”
They were mocking him. They knew. They knew what he’d done and they were mocking him.
He threw open the door and ran to safety inside his house. There was only one lock on the door so he took a chair from the kitchen and wedged it under the handle like he’d seen in movies. Then he grabbed a knife and hid in the stairwell.
A long while later the alarm on his cell phone when off again. He disabled the reminder and didn’t bother taking a pill.
A while after that he left the stairwell and put the knife back in the kitchen.