The Faltering Child


There was a room of pitch black with nothing to be seen but flickers of ember on one side and shafts of light on the other–both coming from windowed doors which sat on either side.

Coming upon this place was a little child, merely toddling about until the sight came into view. The child faltered, afraid to cross over the two light forms which mingled in the middle.

From a barred window on the door of embers, the child saw shadowy flames of red and undying smoke. The child began to fumble his way over to it, curiosity and uncertainty drawing him near.

A strong heat came drifting over him, and the heat from the bars of old metal stung his face as he stood on tiptoe to look inside.

The sound of knocking came, clear and distinct, and the child lowered himself from the window. He put his ear to the redwood door, hoping to find who was knocking so intentionally. He heard only the sound of flames billowing and the hissing of smoke and steam.

The knocking grew livelier, steadier.

The child turned himself towards the other door, startled to see a man standing on the other side of its window.

The man looked rather solemn, but smiled upon seeing that the boy had turned towards him. He motioned for the child to come over, stepping slightly closer to the window.

Flames still roared behind the boy as he walked sheepishly towards the man, and he found himself growing uneasy. And yet the man’s eyes compelled him, told him of safety. They searched him.

“Van,” the man began. He looked so acutely at the boy that he felt the need to look just as deeply at the man. “I need you to remember this: When you feel and hear a knocking on your heart, you had best open it and let me in.”


Van Cilus’ chest rose and fell, causing the blankets to heave above him. Under those shackling canopies, his heart stopped, fluttered, and beat against him cruelly.

His eyes bolted open, and he instinctively rested his trembling hand on his chest, a comfort of sorts. Shadows from the moon’s faint rays glared at him as he waited for the calm to come.

As it did, and his hand no longer billowed above his heart, Van began drifting into sleep once more. During the course of his light sleep, his chilled foot came into contact with his leg, and before his vision was a man with a face like ash.

This man’s eyes were popped nearly out of his head, gray and blanch. Rings of coal ornamented his eyes, white against black.

Van quickly forced his numbing foot away, shivering in the man’s presence as he closed his eyes again.

Thump. Thump.

A bit of chatter came from just outside his window, and the front door jangled under the force of the knocking.

It became distant still, as flashes of beige and glimpses of brown came into his vision. Little creatures, obscured in shadow, began their tumultuous climb down the walls.

Some fell from the ceiling, after dangling there by nothing but a single claw or pincer. Onto the air-cushiony blankets they dropped, the sound of hail hitting grass.

Van drew himself up, away from the edge of the bed where the majority seemed to be plummeting. Closer to the misty, cold window now, Van exposed himself to the visitors outside.

A pathetic whisper, followed by more distinct knocking.

The creatures began crawling, inching their way onto Van’s legs and arms. He jumped off his bed, forcing each of the vicious little things down and away.

But they were crawling into his ears, hiding in his hair, and the ones on the floor were raising their stingers. The pain began.

When you feel and hear a knocking on your heart, you had best open it and let me in.

His blood became magma, heating his limbs until they were numb. He crashed onto the bed, his head hitting the wall behind it—he didn’t feel the contact.

The ceiling was before him, until the creatures veiled it from his view, resting on his eyes.

Thump. Thump.

Van’s heart fluttered, skipped multiple beats in a row. It weakened, no longer audible above the sound of the creatures crawling inside his ears, their claws and stingers brushing against his eardrum.

And it stopped.

Not his heart, but the rest of him.

Van lost all ability to move, the stings having taken away his feeling in a rush of heat. And he couldn’t think; couldn’t understand.

Above him now stood the man with the face of ash, and the eyes which protruded from his head as little white doorknobs against a cemetery door.

The door was opened, and Van had nothing to do but look at the frame, the doorknobs, and the rushing fire all the time he lived. And still there was a knocking, haunting his thumping heart.

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