"The Caller"

Jacob Wright was a man of sixty-five. His hair had long since reached the grey color that is associated with old men. Although his head was grey, Jacob took pride in the fact that he hadn't lost his hair yet and he would often brag about this to his friends over the telephone.

Jacob lived in the suburbs, alone, in a house which seemed far too big for him. He didn't use to live alone. His wife died when Jacob was sixty. He kept pictures of her around the house. Photographs of Jacob with his mother and father and brother had all been replaced with photographs of his wife.

One still night, Jacob was lying in bed, reading a magazine by the light of his bedside lamp. He'd just reached a very interesting part about mechanics and cars when he heard a soft knocking at the door.

Knock, knock, knock.

His eyebrows furrowed, Jacob lowered the magazine and glanced at the clock. It was half past ten. Who could be at the door at this hour? The knocking came again.

Jacob set down his magazine and put on his slippers and his robe. He fumbled his way through the darkened house and to the front door. Disgruntled, he slipped the key into the lock and pushed the door open.

No one was there.

Jacob took a step onto his porch and peered into the gloomy mist. He couldn't see anyone walking away; there wasn't a package on the floor or a message of any kind. Jacob retreated back into the house, locking the door and attributing the noise to his bad hearing.

He sank back into bed, picked up his magazine and forgot all about it. Twenty minutes later, he heard it again. Jacob jumped and sat up straight, listening carefully. He waited with his ears straining against the silence.

Knock, knock, knock.

Jacob shook his head in confusion. That was definitely someone knocking at the door. Once again he put down his magazine, put on his slippers and his robe and walked down to the front door. He opened it and peered outside.

There was no one there.

Jacob shifted uneasily as he stared out into the night. Maybe the kids that lived next door were playing a trick on him. But if that were true he would have seen them running away when he opened the door. Jacob searched the bushes next to the door, maybe they had hidden themselves there, but there was no one in the bushes either. Jacob muttered to himself as he walked back inside and closed the door. He wouldn't lock it this time. He would wait for those kids to come knocking again, but this time he would open the door right away and catch them in the act.

He waited with his hand on the knob, ready to swing in open in the startled faces of the teenagers. He waited and his palm grew sweaty on the knob and his breathing became loud and excited. He listened hard. About ten minutes later he heard what sounded almost like scratching and then-

Knock, knock-

Jacob swung the door open with ferocity and shouted "Got ya!" But then he realized that the porch was empty once more. No one was there. Jacob shivered. That was odd. That wasn't natural. He'd opened the door while the person was knocking and no one had shown themselves. When he'd opened the door he'd thought he'd heard a rustling noise, but now there was only silence.

Jacob locked the door this time, his hands shaking with fear. He considered for a moment calling the police, but he shook that idea away. He didn't like to get involved with the police. It would probably be better if he just went back to sleep.

Jacob trudged upstairs, breathing heavily. He got into bed and turned off his lamp and closed his eyes. He would just go to sleep and wake up in the morning. That's all there was to it.

Knock, knock, knock.

Jacob tried to ignore it.

Knock, knock, knock.

He put a pillow on his head.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Go away," he muttered under his breath.

Then he had an idea. As the knocking continued, he ran downstairs. He swung open the door. No one was there, as he suspected. He pushed open the door as far as it would go, until it was against the house. Then he walked back inside without closing the door. "There," he said, his eyes wide. "No one can knock on the door if it's already open for them, can they?" He chuckled to himself, marveling at his own brilliance then he got back in bed, his mind at ease that he had solved this problem.

It was nearly forty minutes later when-

Tap, tap, tap.

Jacob sat bolt upright. The intruder was tapping at his window! Jacob scrambled back from the window, but the curtains were closed so he couldn't see who was there. "Go away," Jacob whispered. "Go away, Ben."

Tap, tap, tap.

It was louder now, as though more urgent. In a frenzy, Jacob leapt to the window and ripped back the curtains. No one was there, of course. Jacob sank back down onto the bed and held onto his knees. "I'm sorry, Ben. Go away. Go away. Go away." Jacob's eye was twitching madly.

"I can fix it." He went downstairs, muttering to himself. Every picture of his wife that he found in the house he turned around so the photo of her couldn't be seen. He flipped the ones hanging on the wall and he placed the ones on tables so they faced down. Then he went into the attic and brought down all the framed photos of his brother he could find. He hurriedly put them around the house. Then he staggered back upstairs into his room.

"See, Ben? I fixed it! Now go away go away go away…"

Tap, tap, tap.

"I fixed it, you hear!?"

Tap, tap, tap.

"I'm sorry! Rosetta was so beautiful! I'm sorry I stole her from you! I'm sorry!"

Tap, tap, tap.

Jacob was holding his head in his hands. "Go away!! Leave me alone!! I'm sorry I murdered you! I wanted Rosetta! It wasn't my fault! Leave me alone."

Tap, tap, tap.

Jacob began laughing hysterically. "Yes, Ben. Very funny, little brother. Very…what's the word…ironic! You're cracking me up! I come in through your window and murder you and get away with it…steal your fiancé…Now you're tapping at my window…very funny…you were always a joker, Ben."

Tap, tap, tap.

"GO AWAY, BEN!" Jacob screamed. He leapt to his feet and ran to the attic. There it was. He grabbed the shotgun and madly ran back to his room. In the process he knocked a framed photograph of his wife to the ground. The frame shattered and her picture lay in the midst of the shards.

Jacob ran to the window, screaming.

Tap, tap, tap.

He forced the window open and fired madly into the night air. "I'll kill you again, Ben!! I don't care! I'll kill you again! I don't mind!!" No one was there.

Jacob's window was above the roof of the living room. Jacob stuck one foot out the window and placed it on the roof below him. He balanced himself with one hand while the other held the gun. He pulled himself out onto the roof and sat there, his eyes bulging, with the handgun pointing at the darkness. He would wait for Ben to come tapping again and he would kill him when he did.

Jacob shifted his position, but the roof was slippery and he was far from agile. His foot slipped out from underneath him and he lost his balance. Screaming, he slid down the shingles and over the side of the roof. He flew through the air in one wild moment then he hit the ground. The shotgun went flying as Jacob yelled in rage and pain. He couldn't move. He lay in the grass, broken and bleeding and listened.

Tap, tap, tap.

He could hear laughing, he was sure he could.

Tap, tap, tap.

Jacob scowled, defeated and he died on his front lawn.

A woodpecker hopped to the edge of the roof and stared down at the dead man. It pecked at a shingle and withdrew with a termite in its beak. The bird swallowed the termite, let out a laugh, and flew away into the night.