Lock the Door
The summer storm seemed harmless at first. It struck on a hot, humid August night, not unlike tonight. Pretty little alerts buzzed happily on every phone inside the safety of my living room. My wife, Emily, was the first to notice and read the emergency message aloud.
“Flash flood warning in this area,” she announced with misplaced excitement. “Tonight until tomorrow morning. Yay! I love a good storm!”
As soon as she spoke, the dark sky erupted with forks of angry yellow lightning and buckets of cascading white rain. Four of us gathered eagerly around the bay window to watch the chaos unfold. Wind ripped branches down from the massive oak in the front yard. Leaves and twigs kicked up into mini cyclones all along the driveway. The sewers backed up and spit out water in waves.
“Shit,” I muttered. “There goes the land gnome.”
We were entertaining guests from the city at our new home in the suburbs. Emily’s childhood friend Diana was visiting her parents for the weekend and instead decided to stop by here, unannounced, for dinner. Unfortunately for me, that meant her smug boyfriend was along for the ride. I hated Aaron. hoped the distraction of the storm would save me from another one of his self-righteous sermons. I was wrong.
“Jeez,” I whined as our garbage can shimmied down the road. “This is biblical.”
I’ll admit to baiting him just a bit.
“Noah’s Arc withstood rain that covered the highest hills and tallest mountains,” Aaron finished. “Isn’t that a fun fact? Genesis 7:19. The Lord always provides.”
“Does he provide flood insurance, too?”
Hail mixed in with the rain. The gutters sagged. I knew they wouldn’t be able to hold much longer. I forgot to empty the leaves.
“I don’t know about all those stories,” Emily countered. “I believe that they were just trying to teach us a message, you know? Not to be taken literally. That’s why they call them parables.”
“I believe we might be swimming soon,” I muttered to no one in particular.
“Oh, gorgeous,” Aaron interjected sarcastically. “Bad drainage, huh, guy? Might want to have that looked at, bud. Mold can be dangerous if you plan on having kids in here.”
Einstein continued on about having a “guy” for every particular homeowner situation, which was really just his wealthy father, while Diana stared on in wonderment. She gushed something about his alleged handiness. I ignored the rest of the conversation and motioned to my wife.
“Can you help me carry the wineglasses?”
Emily met me worriedly in the kitchen. The storm raged on behind her.
She laughed and slapped me on the shoulder.
“Be nice. You owe me. I put up with your friends. Just don’t take him so seriously.”
“Not that. You don’t understand. The steps outside our basement are a basin. The drain is plugged by debris. If enough water gets into that area, there will nowhere for it to go but inside the house. That glass door can’t hold it back forever.”
She stared at me.
“I know. I know! Okay? I should have taken care of it.”
The wind howled through the awkward silence. Lightning flashed for a moment to reveal tips of trees swirling like dancers. Loud rumbles of thunder followed. A distant power line ruptured. Aaron shouted something obnoxious just as something somewhere shattered.
I peeked into the basement.
“Right!” I shouted over my shoulder. “Definitely fucked!”
A wall of water stood in front of the sliding door. We sprinted down the stairs to try and stem the tide. Spits of it split through the seams in the glass. We had a moment to grab some towels from the dryer. Somewhere along the way, the lights went out. Then the entire wall collapsed.
Suddenly, the only sounds were muted voices and rushing water.
I lifted my head above the surface just in time to hear my wife scream. I reached out into the darkness for her. Filth and foam filled my mouth. I grasped hold of some black fabric and pulled it close. She gagged. She was bruised and cut. But she was okay.
“We have to go,” I spat into a wave that slammed me against the couch. “We have to go now.”
Emily caught her breath and screamed back.
“Something swam by me.”
“Something swam by my leg.”
As if the prospect of dealing with an insurance provider hadn’t fucked me up enough.
“Hold onto me. Don’t let go.”
We swam. The first few stairs were already underwater. But by the fourth or fifth, we were finally able to stand. Dry carpet never felt so good. I cradled Emily and carried her up the rest of the way. Diana waited at the top of the steps. She watched the struggle with an amused look painted on her plastic features, wineglass in tow, apparently unwilling to lend even a literal hand.
“Look at the two of yous!” she cackled. “Drenched like rats! Did ya pop a pipe or what?!”
I couldn’t stop coughing long enough to justify a response. I envisioned the sludge moving from my throat into my lungs. I held back vomit. I gestured for a towel, and Emily limped to help. Diana just laughed, and soon enough, Aaron rounded the corner to join her.
“Golly-y-y!” he guffawed. “How’s the weather down there, guys, huh? Right?”
I nodded and cocked my head to let the water out.
“Running on empty here, chief.” He brandished the wine glass. “Want to get me a refill when you’re done?”
“Shut the fuck up, Aaron.”
“Maybe your buddy can get you some. Whole lot of water out there.”
I jetted from the kitchen to the bedroom in search of dry clothes. I could hear Emily apologizing for me. I wished she wouldn’t. A million problems ran through my mind, the least concerning of which would have been these two assholes.
Our German Shepherd, Lola, met me at the door. I almost forgot about leaving her in there. Aaron did not like dogs. Of course. “Filthy creatures,” he called them. We didn’t hear barking all night, so I thought she was taking the rough treatment better than usual. But as soon as she saw me, the poor pup darted under the bed and stuck her butt out.
Not a normal sight for a seventy-pound shepherd.
I reached out to give her some attention. She nearly took my hand off instead. I backed away just to prevent an incident. That never happened with my dog before. She was not aggressive at all. It scared me.
Emily’s voice echoed down the hall.
“Oh my God, Matt, it’s hailing again!”
I changed out of the wet clothes and rushed to meet them. Fog blended in with the rain. Fist-sized balls of ice punched into the pavement of my already chipped driveway. I cursed myself for leaving the cars outside. I needed to find my keys. I couldn’t find my keys. Diana seemed to be following the same line of thought.
“The Jag is out there!” she whined. “Emily. That car cost more than this house. Can we use your garage? Can we do something? Please?”
“Our cars are outside, too,” Em muttered. “The garage is open, I think. But don’t go out there, Di. It’s really unsafe.”
Diana laughed and shot me a dirty look.
“Look, it’s just a little water.” She snorted. “You guys need to learn how to prepare better. Aaron has a guy who can help you with the basement. He works with the insurance. I’ll be right back, all right? The garage is open? Just give me a minute. I hope I didn’t leave the windows open…”
She pulled open the deck door.
“This is bonkers. Guys, it’s freezing!” she shouted over the wind. “It’s August! You feel this? Oh my gosh! Are we still in Jersey?”
The air was so cold that it wafted its way through the kitchen. Subconsciously, the three of us backed away, just as the massive balls of hail transformed into pristine little snowflakes.
“Diana…” Aaron stammered. “Get inside the house. Now.”
“I’ll be right back, hon, stop,” she countered from the doorway. “You’re so controlling.”
“Diana, you stupid fucking idiot, get inside this piece-of-shit house right now.”
I laughed. Somehow, that didn’t work. Di slammed the door in our face. She disappeared into the fog. Aaron watched her walk away with an expression equal parts rage and confusion.
And then it was quiet.
At first it felt like only a minute. Aaron nursed his ego and shot annoyed daggers from across the table. Emily paced back and forth. I left them to survey the rest of the damage. The snow fell at a breathtaking pace. A half foot enveloped the street in front of our house. A few trees had fallen in the backyard. I could see the shapes of them slip underneath the snow drifts. Soon enough those started to disappear, too.
Aaron’s voice broke through the silence.
“I didn’t hear a car start.”
The backyard was a backdrop of white. The driveway merged into the fence next to it. Any hint of color fell victim to the drifts.
“Did either of you hear a car?” Aaron continued in a growing frenzy. “What if she fell? What if she’s stuck? Don’t you people give a shit? We have to go get her. She could die out there!”
“We could die out there,” Emily whispered. “It’s too dangerous. Just wait another minute. Maybe the snow will stop.”
Our remaining houseguest looked from me to my wife. Then he grabbed his snow boots and jacket.
“To Hell with you both. You belong there. Open the door.”
Emily stood in his path. Aaron pushed her out of the way. I thought it might be better to give him a hand. I grabbed the unbearable prick by the collar, opened the door, and tossed him out myself. He protested right before the door slammed in his face.
My wife glared at me. I could live with that if we did.
We waited a few minutes longer. The house grew quiet again. We were left with Aaron’s golf cap, thrown back inside with the wind, and I was just about to talk about what an asshole he was, hoping to get myself out of the dog house, when suddenly an enormous roar punctured through the storm.
Our eyes locked.
We heard things falling all night. This wasn’t that. Emily darted to the deck window. There was nothing to see at first. Fog hung only a few inches above the snow. My eyes struggled to find color again. Then, in the corner of the driveway, a flash of red shuffled its way forward.
It was Aaron.
He was trying to run. But he wasn’t getting far. He kept looking behind him and tripping over his boots, as if he was escaping something. After a few feet, he seemed to give up altogether. He fell helplessly to the ground. Then his pursuer came into focus.
“Oh God, oh my God, oh my God, Matt, look at it. Look at it. Look at it, look at it, look at it, what the fuck is that!”
The snow hampered my view, but some things were clear. In comparison to Aaron, the creature stood at least three feet taller. Its back was hunched and its skin was covered in matted, dark-colored hair, encased by snow. It followed our former friend lazily. Aaron tried to crawl away. But there really wasn’t much of a point. The beast didn’t even look bothered.
When it caught him, it lifted him up in the air like a chew toy. Aaron’s legs and arms dangled helplessly at his sides. The sickening crunch that followed sounded like breaking bones and ripping skin. The screaming stopped.
The snow slowed.
Emily turned and ran for the front door. She locked the deadbolt and moved onto the mud room. Lola was barking now. Soon the thing outside would try to get in the house. It had to know we were there. We were sitting ducks. Easy prey.
We rushed for the bedroom and locked one final door behind us. If we were to die, at least it would be together, at home, instead of out in there in the unknown. Lola rushed to join us under the covers. Thankfully, she didn’t bite.
It grew quiet again.
Minutes turned into an hour. Lola exited the sheets and waited patiently by the door. She looked like she wanted to growl but somehow knew not to risk it. I held her leash tight. I felt better with her there. Even if we were both useless in the end. At least we would be useless together.
The snow picked up a new cadence. I could no longer see my mailbox. The storm brought with it a certain contemplativeness. That slow rhythm that lulls you right into sleep. But human beings can sense danger, in a way, even if they can’t see it. I knew the creature was near even before it spoke.
“Open the door, you two idiots. Open the door.”
The voice came from just beyond the window. I didn’t want to look to see where. I felt useless. I felt powerless. Lola whimpered piteously.
Something sharp tapped at the walls of the house. First just the bay in the living room. Then the bedroom. Then the whole front of the house. Like it was searching for weaknesses. The awful pitch made me cover my ears.
The voice called out again, this time in a disturbing parody of Diana’s Brooklyn accent.
“Look at the two of yous! This is bonkers…bonkers!”
The curious scratching receded. Then the taunting transcended into a vicious pounding.
“Like rats!” it screeched with a guttural, throaty laugh. “LIKE RATS!”
The voice coughed. The tone was horribly disjointed as it switched behind Diana and Aaron’s two very different inflections.
“Open the door. The Lord always provides. Open the door. The Lord always provides.”
“Open the door, pleASE, Matt.”
“Open the door, pleASE, Emily.”
“OPEN THE DOOR. OPENTHEDOOR. OPENTHEDOOR. OPENTHEDOOR.”
The voice coughed again. Then it did something that made my skin crawl. It impersonated me.
“Fucked. Definitely fucked. Definitely fucked.”
Emily got out of the bed. I tried to hold her down. Lola put her paws on her. But she pushed us both aside. Then she did something she hadn’t in years. I didn’t really understand it in that moment. Honestly, I still don’t. She got down to her knees and prayed.
The prayer was not to anyone in particular. Em was never that religious. She thanked someone, anyone, for our beautiful life. She thanked them for our house, and for all of our memories inside it, and she thanked them for our family far and wide. She thanked them for our dog. She thanked them for our love. I guess the point was to just thank Them. All of Them. Any of Them who might be listening.
“If He is here, then You have to be, too.” She waited. “Please help us.”
The pounding receded, weakly, at first. The snow outside stalled. The footsteps slowly faded away into the darkness. I didn’t know exactly when we fell asleep. But it’s a small blessing that we did.
Then the morning came.
The storm all but obliterated our hometown. Some places were flooded. Some were torched in fires from the electrical wires. Nobody got out of it unscathed. But insurance claims were filed. Repairs were done. People recovered, just as they always do.
Diana and Aaron were reported missing along with a half dozen others in the immediate area. The state updated their status to presumed drownings soon after.
Tonight is the five-year anniversary of our encounter, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s another warning for inclement weather. This time we will be prepared. The gutters are clean. The basement is dry. All the doors are locked. I hope yours are, too.
You never know what will want to get in.