I’m the only one who can hear the tap-tap-tapping on the window pane. My momma told me it was the branches from the bushes outside. But I looked, and there ain’t no branches close enough to do that. And my dad told me it was just the rain, but I hear it when the sun’s out and no drip-drip-dripping runs down the glass.
But I’m the only one who hears it, the only one who lies awake when the moon is high and listens to that rap-rap-rapping. We read a poem in school bout some guy who heard a knocking at his door, and I wonder if there’s a beast waiting out there for me just the same.
I get out of bed and it goes quiet. Like always. Like it knows I might catch it. As silence stretches around me; all of a sudden the sound starts. It knows I’m not coming.
“Whaddya want?” I bark, too loud. Momma and dad will be stomp-stomp-stompin down the hallway any minute now, coming to tell me to keep it down. People are trying to sleep, ya’know.
It just keeps up its click-click-clacking against the glass, and I feel my heart a thump-thump-thumping.
“I’ve had enough of you.” My voice is brave, but I am not.
The tap becomes a scratch, raking down the glass. Nails on the chalkboard, like dad described the music on the radio whenever I turned the dial.
“Out with it,” I growl. There’s a brewing irritation, a fear that my guest might not be playin’ fair. A worry that I’m losing my mind like Old Grovy down by the river.
Then there’s a laughing that rattles the whole window frame. A clang-clang-clanging glass on wood that sounds like it’s all about to break. And I imagine trying to explain how my window just shattered, spraying tiny slivers across the room.
“Quit it!” It’s supposed to be forceful, but I sound like the little kids crying on the playground.
I breathe, the air shake-shake-shaking down my throat. “What do you want?” This time each word is steady, commanding. I channel my exasperated mother and irritated father into the words.
“To get what has been promised,” hisses a voice from the window. From the corner of my eye, I see golden eyes round in the moonlight, pointed teeth arched in a smile. They float in the space, like window clings left up after Halloween.
I wish I believed they were decorations.
“And what’s that?” I cross my arms, hoping to draw comfort from the pose. I can feel goosebumps prickling on my arms.
“A firstborn child. Promises have been made. Promises must be kept.”
And the goosebumps are a whole gooseskin, squeezing every drop of warmth from my blood and bones.
“I–I didn’t make no promises.” Shaky words in the night, loud enough I hope someone comes to tell me to quiet down. I strain for the creak-creak-creaking of the wooden stairs, but all I hear is the air conditioning kicking on. Don’t they know it’s ice in here already.
“But you were promised.” It laughs again, and I can see the teeth split into an open maw, shaking with the force of the sound.
I am brave.
I’m no baby.
I call out. “Mommy!”
Now there’s a flurry outside, steps racing up the hall. The creature silences and watches. My door swings open, bang-bang-banging against the wall. Mom’s in her nightgown, hair all askew, eyes foggy with sleep. She sees me standing still in the room.
“The thing at the window.” I raise a shaking arm to point, but the light from my now-bright room floods the glass. She looks at it, looks past it, turns and takes my hand.
“There’s nothing there, sweetie.”
“But it said it was here to take me away. Because I’m the firstborn.”
Her face changes. The comforting smile replaced by one I’ve never seen before. Worried. Unsettled. I liked it better when she was calm and confident. “I see.” She turns back to the window, looking into the darkness. “I had hoped today would never come,” she says with a sigh.
“Mommy?” The word comes sob-sob-sobbing out of me. Parents aren’t supposed to be scared of monsters in the dark. Monsters aren’t supposed to be real.
“Promises must be kept,” she says with her hands on the latch. The tap-tap-tapping raises to a fever pitch now, eagerness spilling from the other side of the glass in time with my trembling limbs.
“I’m sorry.” The window opens.