Marcella wanted to scream. Two years ago she would have. But she was twelve now. It wouldn’t do at all.
So she didn’t.
She knew it had been a dream.
She was in the kitchen, about to open the pantry to get some graham crackers. Suddenly, there in the doorknob, the knob her father had just installed, was her mother’s face.
“Don’t you dare touch this knob,” the face commanded.
She jumped back. The face disappeared. She approached again. This time there was a different face. Nanny’s face, gaunt, pale, moldy-looking.
“You gotta help me, Marcella. Get me out of here.”
She reached for the knob again. Her mother’s face reappeared and shouted, “No!” The face was so angry, so distorted, so crazy that she tried to scream as she jumped back.
She sat up in bed, shaking and controlling the urge to scream. The digital clock’s red numerals showed 4:30.
It was just a silly dream. Because of Dad installing the new doorknob. Because of how he didn’t want me to watch. Usually he loves having me there, explaining what he’s doing, letting me help. But not yesterday.
I’ll just go down and see that everything’s OK.
The house was quiet as an isolation chamber. Outside, the wind in the winter-bare trees. She usually liked the hum of the winter wind, when she was inside by the fire or under her duvet. It reminded her of sledding and ice-skating and snow ball fights by moonlight.
But tonight the moaning made her pulse pound and her breathing turn into quick gasps, even with her duvet pulled completely over her.
It’s just the wind in the trees.
She pushed the cover back and swung her legs to the floor. And didn’t move.
Was that the wind or was that Nanny’s voice?
She wrapped herself back up in the warm feathers. And lay awake. At six, she got up, dressed, brushed and pulled her long, blonde hair into a pony tail and slipped into her fleece-lined slippers. Boots for hiking to school in the snow were in the front hall.
Anything else before I go downstairs?
She knew she was stalling. But her books and stuff were all loaded in her backpack, ready to go.
Jerk. What are you scared of? A silly dream.
The wind was making a strange, whistling noise outside her corner bedroom, through the blackness of the pre-dawn December morning.
One more look around the room.
Something was wrong.
Where’s Raggedy Ann?
The doll was an early gift from Nanny. Too grown up to play with her, Marcella never moved her from the dresser. Now she found her on the shelf by the clock.
How’d she get over there?
She plopped Raggedy Ann back in her spot and went downstairs. The kitchen was warm, bright, and friendly. Her father was making French toast, her mother reading the Plain Dealer and sipping coffee. A furtive glance at the pantry showed nothing unusual. She poured orange juice and took a seat where she could see the pantry door. Not her usual seat. Her mother looked up, gave a confused frown, and returned to the paper. Her father dumped a couple of slices of French toast on her plate and headed to the pantry to get the syrup.
She tensed up and stopped breathing. He opened the door and pulled out the syrup.
See. Everything’s normal.
She could hardly pay attention in school.
Why is that silly dream bothering me so much?
She struggled to get her homework done, having to figure out things she had missed when her mind refused to pay attention. Finally to bed. She dozed off and woke when she heard her parents go to bed.
I’ll wait till I’m sure they’re asleep and then go down and check.
Instead, she slept, till the dream woke her again at 4:30.
Be cool, girl. You saw that everything was normal.
She slipped into her slippers—soft, quiet bottoms—and took a little flashlight from a dresser drawer. She walked slowly and carefully. Previous nighttime adventures and sleep-overs had taught her how to avoid creaking boards.
Suddenly there was a loud creak.
Her innards clenched.
That board never creaks!
A couple of deep breaths. Then ever so carefully down the stairs. Crossing the living room and dining room would be easy going—wall-to-wall carpets muffled any sound. Two steps into the dining room, she froze. There was a glow coming from the kitchen. Her heart seemed to spasm.
Just the microwave. Someone left the door open.
But the microwave door wasn’t open. The glow came from the pantry doorknob.
Steady, now. You’re just imagining things. Doorknobs don’t glow.
A couple of more deep breaths. She approached the door. The knob glowed steadily till she reached out to grab it. Then her mother’s face, distorted and angry and crazy.
“No!” her mother’s voice shouted.
Marcella gasped and jerked her hand back.
You’re being an idiot. You saw Dad open it this morning.
She looked again. Now Nanny’s face glowed from the knob.
Is that Nanny’s voice? No. Just the wind.
She reached out to the door. Again her mother’s face and angry screams. She took a deep breath, then quickly grabbed the knob.
“Ooouw!” She jerked her hand away and stifled the exclamation. Too late. She heard her father get up and go to her room. Then to the top of the stairs.
“Yeah, Dad. I needed something to eat and banged my toe. Sorry.”
“You shouldn’t be down there this time of night. At least put a light on. Sleep well.”
Sleep well? How the hell can I sleep well in a haunted house? Why shouldn’t I be down here this time of night?
The breakfast ritual repeated. Her father cooked scrambled eggs and went to the pantry for a new bottle of ketchup. When he saw her watching, he smiled at her.
That’s not his usual smile . . .
At noon she slipped out of school and hiked home. Mom and Dad would both be at work.
As soon as she got in the house she called Nanny. Nanny had left when she started kindergarten; they kept in touch on her birthday, on Nanny’s birthday, at Christmas. Now she got a “number disconnected” message. Then she remembered that Nanny’s Christmas package had not arrived. It always arrived by St. Nicholas Day; now Christmas was just a week off.
Marcella went to Facebook. Nanny’s FB page was gone, zilch. Search yielded nothing.
Maybe she wanted to be off the grid. Always was a bit counter-culture. I’ll check more on that later. Now the doorknob.
A quick trip to the basement for tools.
What’s that moaning noise? Just the furnace fan starting up, wasn’t it?
She pulled open the pantry door with a silicon mitt. Everything looked normal. Except, there on the floor, was Raggedy Ann.
How’d she get there?
She didn’t like that. More shivers. She gave herself a pep talk, set the doll on the table, and tried touching the knob with her bare hand. Nothing. She pulled the door open. The new knob was one-sided, just on the outside of the door. The old knob mechanism had knobs on both sides. Careful examination of the door frame. No wires. She pulled the pins from the hinges, with a tongue-and-groove pliers, and lifted the door out. No wires. Nothing on the door or the door frame that looked anything like a contact point. Propping the door against the wall, she disassembled the knob. There was nothing that might generate electric shock or image.
She put it all back together and sat, thinking. Part of her said it was all in her imagination.
You just proved everything is normal.
But she couldn’t dispel the cold she felt down her back, the funny feeling in her stomach, the way her heart raced when she recalled the nocturnal episodes. And the Raggedy Ann transportations.
“I tried to reach Nanny today,” she said at dinner. The bright yellow kitchen was cozy despite the black winter night trying to intrude through the window over the sink. “Wondered if everything was OK, since her usual Christmas package hasn’t arrived. Her number’s disconnected and her Facebook page is gone.”
Then her father said, “We’ve heard some things about Nanny that weren’t very nice. We think it would be best for you if you don’t have any contact with her.”
“What things? Why no contact?”
“We can’t go into details. Just accept it for now.”
Accept it for now? What kind of shit is that?
She didn’t say anything. When you can’t figure out what’s going on and who’s involved in what, it’s best not to say anything.
Another long, difficult night of homework. On the phone with her friend to get assignments and class updates. An excuse about her period starting two days early.
Facebook was still set on the search for Nanny. Now big letters appeared across the screen, “Stay out of this if you know what’s good for you.”
Marcella stared at the screen. Adrenaline flowed. Fight or flight? She knew what it had to be. She sat at her desk, lights out, till her parents were asleep. Each time she tried to listen to some cheery music, her iPod switched to Liszt’s “Funeral March.” She waited without music. The room got colder and colder, even though she could hear the furnace running. She pulled out a picture of Nanny and focused on all the times Nanny had been there for her. Finally time to go downstairs.
Control your breathing, stupid. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Of course she didn’t really believe that.
Same glowing doorknob.
Same image of her mother, more and more distorted and crazy and angry. Same warning screams.
She grabbed the knob with the silicon mitt.
The warning screams louder and louder.
Yank the door open.
Shine the light.
No shelves. No cans. No boxes.
Just a black void.
And Nanny’s voice from far away.
She took a step inside. The flashlight revealed nothing. There must be some kind of floor, but the beam did not reflect back when she pointed it down.
Then the door shut behind her. The door with no inside knob.
Originally published by The Weekly Knob at Medium.com.
Image copyright Visualalive | Dreamstime.com. Mod EHB.