It began twenty one days ago. I was driving home from work, getting off the interstate I came to a stop at the red light and notice a man dressed in an old military jacket, some camo pants, and a black cane. Using the light pole to get up carrying a cardboard sign on his sign as he lifts it up I see it says “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.” What a strange time to be panhandling for money at a quarter past midnight on an off-ramp. I didn’t make eye contact and maintained my sight forward at the red light turning green, as I’m sure most people do when faced with a panhandler.
The next night while leaving work I come to the same red light and notice the homeless vet laying there beneath the light shining from the pole. He slowly stands up and holds up his sign towards me “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.” Maintaining my lack of eyesight, faced forward with determination, I pull off as the light fades red turning green. I wonder what brings a person to beg for scraps at a quarter past midnight, how low a bottom does a rock have to hit for that?
Upon arriving home I see a light flicker on inside my home. I don’t carry a gun in my car, but I do have a large hunting knife by my driver’s seat. I pulled it out and held it by my side as I entered my home. No light was on inside. Strange I thought.
I put away my things and prepared to go to bed. In the shower I turned the knob midway to get the shower steaming hot. I soak myself in my shampoo conditioner and lower my head beneath the water. Tap. I heard a noise on the outside of my bathroom window like a rock was thrown against it. I peered outside my shower door and saw a shadow outside the window. Strangely it remained there like a statue, I expected it to move quickly to disappear. Stepping out on the floor mat I slipped and fell on my back. The shadow was still there, a salient figure watching over me through the privacy glass. Sweat poured down from my face. I passed out right there on the bathroom floor.
The next night I tried my best to forget the silliness of last nights… occurrence. On my way home I find the homeless man leaning against the pole to uphold his balance as he raises up his sign “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.” Maintaining eyesight forward, I speed past him as the light fades red into green. In my rearview mirror he is facing me as cars continue driving past him he raises his cardboard sign towards me, “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.” As I arrive home I see a shadow under the street light but no one there. My mind is made up that something is wrong but that doesn’t matter anymore.
I couldn’t sleep that night. My dreams were keeping me awake. That man in his military vest haunted them. That cardboard sign was covering my broken windows. My house was dark, except for the sunlight that the signs let threw. I could see my breath in the chilling air, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. But I didn’t care.
On the fourth night I considered taking another way home, but the next exit would be several more miles out of the way and then I would have to backtrack. Decidedly as I pulled to a stop I pulled out my coin tray and grabbed a small handful to give to the homeless man. “Here you go, man, hope it helps” reaching out my hand to him, he simply faces forward and moves his cardboard sign to face me, “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.”
“Here’s some money, take it.” He stares at me. I notice he has a scar on his cheek, like a knife had cut threw his face and slashed it out, maybe an enemy in a faraway battle. It could have been a wolf that attacked him, I see some claw marks. Frustrated, and sure, a bit unsettled, I toss the coins back in my coin tray and pull off as the light fades red into green. In my rearview mirror the homeless man is again facing towards me with his cardboard sign, the light shone on it “why wait four nights?”
I pulled into my garage, parked my card and grabbed my things. My jacket, my phone, a bottle of water, and I lean in my backseat to grab my laptop bag and notice the cardboard sign, “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.” How the hell did that get in there? Grabbing it I stuff it into my garbage can. This guy is insane, I thought. How’d he get that in there?
After a shower I turn on my living room TV and lay in my reclining chair. It was the Late Show. There were audience laughs as the comedian told jokes. TAP TAP TAP TAP. On my backyard window. Peering out there was nothing there. Seeing as much horror flicks as I have, I knew not to investigate, but curiosity killed the cat, so they say. I got up and turned on the back porch light to see nothing there. I turned it off. Or maybe my mind ignores what is out there.
Sitting back in my chair another TAP TAP TAP TAP came upon my backyard door. Now it’s pissing me off. I got up and peered through the blinds, nothing there. I opened the door to find a few dead rabbits down on the ground. What the hell? I nudged them with my foot, blood came out of their mouths. Their legs were twisted. I went in to grab a trash bag and toss them out. Another knocking and then a pounding in a succession of four came at my door. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. “What do you want!?” I yelled. Nothing was there. I locked the back door and took a few pills to help me fall asleep. They didn’t work. I stayed up all night staring into my pale ceiling.
Another night and day goes by and there I was on my way home again. I’ll admit I was anxious on seeing the homeless man. I didn’t want to face him, I didn’t want to question him as to why his cardboard sign was in my car. Flipping on my right turn signal I got off the freeway, underneath the light pole the homeless man was nowhere to be seen. Thank god, I thought. A quarter past midnight was no time for a panhandler to be panhandling. Anxiousness and sweat still poured down my back, but I was relieved. The homeless man was gone.
Turning onto my street the lights were dark and the street was empty. No cars on the side of the road, no trash cans out for the trash pickup in the morning. I pulled into my house and even my security light didn’t flicker on as it does. Maybe the power was out?
My garage door wouldn’t open. I parked my car then grabbed my jacket and laptop bag and got out. I heard some footsteps across the street, but no one was there. I hurried inside. Upon sitting on my chair I heard the TAP TAP TAP TAP on my back window. I went to look outside. A military jacket lay there on the ground in front of the door. I turned the light off and made sure the door was locked. TAP TAP TAP TAP in a quicker succession, I swear to God it was quicker.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK on my front door, I swung around and went to the front door and glanced out in front. Nobody was there, nobody except a cardboard sign. Waiting a few seconds to see if anyone, or anything, was out there before I opened the door and looked at the sign. “Why wait four nights.” was on the sign. How does the man know where I live?
Sweat dripped from my forehead, I wondered what to do. I checked all my doors, ran to the windows and thrusted my hands on the locks to ensure they were all the way pushed in. Even checked my garage door. It was shut. Tap, tap, tap, tap on the back door. Another four knocks on the front door. My mind was racing it had me circling my house wondering what could I do. I was losing it. I threw my hand in the bottle of pills and took what I grabbed to knock myself out and just simply sleep through this. But I couldn’t sleep.
My dreams they kept me awake. I drove home the next night uneventfully. No man with his cardboard sign there under the light pole to greet me with “Homeless vet, need food, need money, please, anything.” Nothing. No one. But every night there was a tapping and knocking at my door, in succession of fours. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Knock, knock, knock, knock. On the front door, back window, or bathroom wall.
Two nights later as I was coming home from work, the homeless man with his military jacket and camo pants were missing from underneath the light pole. The light was blinking in and out. I got home and saw my front door was ajar. I parked on the street outside and grabbed my knife and slowly crept up to the door to peer inside. Nothing was amiss inside, not a banana out of place, the remote was where I left it on the left side of the coffee table on top of a book. The backyard window blinds were opened. I remember those closed. Lightly yet noticeably closer together, tap tap tap tap came upon my wall. My pale blue wall. My eyes rolled back and I cried tears of frustration and fear.
Two weeks later here I am writing in my notepad sitting in my chair. It continued for twenty one days. Sometimes a tap, sometimes a knock, always in fours, and slightly quicker each time.
Tap tap tap tap, then there was a knocking on the wall. Lifting up my head and staring at the wall, I did not dare approach that tapping on the pale blue wall. I stayed sitting on my rocking chair with my quilted black blanket laying over me with my head leaning towards that sound of tapping. My television was turned on but placed on mute as that constant tapping turned my ears red.
I’ve recorded the tapping and knocking. The time lapse between taps and knocks has increased 95% since the first week. It’s much quicker now, tap tap tap tap. I have a feeling this is coming to an end, but I’m not sure what end it will be for me for I await one more night and the taps should end and my nightmare will be through.