I generally love thunderstorms. There's just something cathartic about listening to the pattering rain and rumbling thunder while searching the sky for a light show.
That's exactly what I was doing when this story started: sitting on my front porch, all alone, just quietly enjoying the storm.
It was getting late. There was just enough natural light in the sky for me to make out the dark clouds coasting by overhead in between flashes of white. I was playing the game many kids play during nights like these: watching for lightning, then counting the Mississippis until the thunder roared. It was a simple thing to pass the time that also gave me an idea of how far away the storm was from where I sat.
I had just lifted my beer to my mouth when I saw the flash in the sky. I counted in my head. "One Mississippi, two Mississippi..."
The roar that followed, so loud it seemed to vibrate the air around me, was definitely not thunder.
As gooseflesh prickled it's way up my skin and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, I strained my ears for a hint of what I had just heard. The rumble of thunder finally followed, confirming my unease, as I wracked my brain for any wildlife in the area that could've made such a sound. Couldn't have been a bear, wasn't shrill enough for a mountain lion. What the hell was that then?
What little light remained had long since left and I sat staring off into the darkness like a madman. Shaking my head and chuckling at myself, my attempt to right my current state, I gathered up my beers and headed inside, making doubly sure to lock the door behind me. Yeah, yeah. Maybe I was being a scaredy cat, but I wasn't about to make rookie mistakes.
Feeling a little better in the safety of my home, I polished off the remaining beer and wasted some time channel surfing. After a couple cheesy sitcoms, I'd all but forgotten the strange noise by the time I headed for bed. It didn't take long for me to drift off into dreamland, and not a whole lot longer for that false sense of security to be shattered.
I woke up in pitch darkness to the sound of something like hammering. A steady rhythmic knock against wood followed by a dragging noise that was almost covered up by the patter of rain on the roof. I sat up in bed shaking the sleep from mind and trying to zero in on where the noise was coming from exactly, the storm didn't help as lightning lit up my room like a flash bulb and a roll of thunder shortly followed.
I swung my legs from bed with a groan as the knocking sound continued. My head ached - too many beers and too little water before bed - and it pulsed with each beat of the noise. I went to flick on the bedroom light but as pulled the small chain of the lamp next to my bed the bulb refused to come to life. I tugged on the chain twice more as if it was going to make a difference - my power was out.
I slipped on my jeans and stumbled half blind out into the hallway, looking for the source of the noise. I wondered briefly if it could be someone knocking at the door but that wasn't quite the right noise. It was two perfectly timed, too constant. You could count beats in between each knock.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi.
Besides it wasn't coming from the front door. Lightning briefly gave me a clearer view of what was around me as I stepped into the living room. Then came crack and growl of thunder loud enough to shake the windows and make my heart skip a beat in my chest. As the thunder faded something else rose from behind it. Something guttural and animal yet holding just a hint of all too human viciousness. My heart, which had so recently startled itself into a stop with the thunder, now attempted to pound its way out my chest as the horrible noise that was most certainly not thunder faded back into the sound of rhythmic well timed knocks.
I stood frozen behind my couch and listened, my ears finally pin-pointing the direction of the sound as it moved from the north wall to around the side of the house. It was clearly outside - whatever it was - and it was moving around my house. The noise doubled back towards the front door as if changed its mind about the best direction to go. My eyes followed the direction of the noise as it steadily (one Mississippi, two Mississippi) moved towards the front windows with each knock. It stopped making the knocking noise as it reached the glass and I ducked down behind the couch and outside of the line of sight of whatever was now standing in front of my window.
I waited, listening to my own ragged breaths and the sound of the rain. The desperately curious urge to peek over the couch towards the window growing stronger. Slowly and steadily I made myself look, against all sense and better judgement.
Two blazing orange pinpoints of light peered back at me through the window. They were deep set in a hulking dark frame that made me feel small at the sight of it. I saw it press clawed hands against the glass and heard (or imagined) the sound of its nails scraping over the window.
“Well, shit,” I muttered, ducking back behind the couch. What the hell was that? Some demon-monster thing was outside my window. My mind pedaled desperately for footing. Demon-monsters are real and there is one outside my window. Wait, no. Monsters aren’t real. I tried to steady my breath. I must have imagined it, that was the only explanation. Monsters aren’t real, and what I had seen was probably just a tree outside my window. Except I don’t have trees outside my window. I must have imagined it though. I would look again, and I’d realize exactly what silly thing I had seen that made me think of a demon. I took a deep breath, and peeked over the edge of the couch.
I breathed a sigh of relief, sinking back down against the couch. God, I should stop drinking.
Knock. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, I counted automatically. Knock. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. Knock. It sounded like it came from upstairs. It was inside the house! Knock. Was it in the attic? Knock. My heart was pounding in my chest again. Knock. It must be a leak, I reasoned. The house is old. Knock. I should go check. Knock. It could do some serious damage. Knock. Of course that was just water dripping, that made sense. Knock. Dripping on metal, or plastic. Knock.
I didn’t want to. I knew I was being silly. But I could just wait until morning to check, though. No, I told myself, you’re not gonna be scared of an imaginary monster. Go check what’s in the attic. Knock. Ok, I’m gonna check. I started walking towards the stairs.
I paused at the foot of the attic stairs, staring up into the darkness. I held my breath, waiting, listening. Knock. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. Knock. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. I swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat and took a deep breath. The attic door was still shut. Presumably, whatever was up there was trapped behind it, at least for now.
My house is old, and the attic door tends to stick, especially when it's raining. I slipped my sneakers and tied them tightly. I ducked back into my bedroom, counting in my head as I dug out my flashlight. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. Knock. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. Knock. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. Knock. I grabbed the flashlight, flipped it on, and raced back into the hall, my heart pounding.
The knocking on the attic door was getting louder. One Mississippi. Knock. One Mississippi. Knock. It was also getting more frequent. Before I could lose my nerve, I climbed the creaking attic stairs and stood on the other side of the door.
"Who's in there?" I demanded, trying to keep my voice steady and even. For a brief instant, everything fell deathly quiet. The only sound was the steady patter of rain against the windows. I held my breath, straining to hear anything from the other side of the attic door.
The knocking began again, but this time, there was no break between knocks. It was a loud, panicky sound, the sound of someone frantically banging on the door. The door shook with the force of it. I took a step back, nearly tumbling backwards down the stairs. I gripped the railing as the attic door continued to shake in its hinges.
As suddenly as the pounding had started, it stopped. I watched the door, counting as I listened. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi. If only there was a way for me to see what was on the other side of the attic door without actually opening it. I leaned down, kneeling on the landing, and shone my flashlight at the inch-high gap between the bottom of the door and the jamb.
I pressed my cheek against the floor and screamed. A bright orange eye looked out from under the door. It was huge, the size of a ping-pong ball, and its pupil was slitted sideways, like a goat's eye. A thin grayish finger poked out from under the door, sliding towards me across the floor.
I ran. I bolted down the stairs, screaming. In my panic, I left my flashlight outside the attic door. I scrambled down a second flight of stairs, nearly blind with panic. Oh God, what was in my attic? How had it gotten in? I burst out of my front door and onto my lawn. The icy cold rain stung my skin, but I barely noticed it.
I stopped short when I saw the crumpled remnants of my car in the driveway. I blinked, trying to convince myself that the rain was messing with my vision or playing a trick on my eyes. It looked like something had stepped on my car. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed, and I saw what looked like an enormous pair of orange eyes floating above my house.
Whatever it was, I didn't want to get a good look at it. I darted back inside, slamming the door behind me and fumbling with the locks. Something was in my attic, but something far worse was in my yard.
Panicked breathing and shock can only last for so long before the body acclimates to terror. This fear had permeated every cell of my body until my heart pumped fear to extremities made from fear. Slowly, but surely, coherent thoughts began to trickle into the forefront of my mind. Images of large orange hircine eyes shifted to questions that had no answers. Questions are good. A mind that is asking questions is ready to take action. With my back against the front door I slid to the floor and buried my face in my hands. Lightning flashed suddenly and illuminated the room in front of me. I immediately began counting.
One Mississippi... Two Mississippi... Three Mississippi…
There was a loud crash upstairs that sounded like wood splintering under pressure. Heavy footfalls clamored down the attic stairs and came to a sudden stop in the hallway above me. The door behind me rattled and whined as something behind it shook and pushed it with immense strength.
Then the thunder crashed again. This time it rattled the windows and seemed to reverberate through the whole house. As I jumped to my feet to move away from the door I couldn't help but take notice of the man standing at the top of the stairs. My eyes had long since become accustomed to the light and there in the darkness stood a man. A man with what appeared to be large hircine eyes and spiraled black horns. In his left hand he held what looked like a giant wooden mallet.
He took a single step down the hardwood steps and his footfall clacked against the stair as if his feet were hooves. I couldn't make out much detail below his face as my eyes were transfixed on his. He moved down the next step slowly as I turned to see the front door flying off the hinges in an explosion of splinters and shards of oak.
I jumped out of the way as the door struck a far wall and the wind forced the storm through my front door aggressively. The man - or whatever it was - continued down the stairs towards me seemingly unphased by the wind now howling through my house. I scrambled away on my hands and knees like a toddler chasing their favorite ball and ended up sliding across the linoleum of the kitchen floor. I slammed by back against the cabinets and turned to look back towards the scene in the living room.
The horned man was still coming, swinging his mallet back and forth as he moved down the stairs one by one. It struck the walls with an eerie and recognizable cadence.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi
Rain and leaves blew in through the door as he reached the bottom of the steps and he stopped for a moment to drink in the storm with outstretched arms. A formless void of darkness spilled in with the elements from outside and began to caress the mallet wielding thing standing in my living room. Lightning flashed and briefly gave the darkness shape. It looked like a massive hand, its wrist twisting to lovingly caress the fiery eyed thing with fingertips attached to fingers the size of my body.
The thunder rolled and something old and angry roared right along with it, the horned man looked in my direction and his eyes burned even brighter - as if he had been renewed by the touch of the darkness. It took up its mallet gripping it tightly now in both hands and moved quickly towards me - like crushing my skull was its only mission in life.
I jumped to my feet and nearly slipped in my attempt to get across the kitchen and into the hall, the sound of the mallet slamming against the walls as I ran. The kitchen windows exploded inwards in a shower of glass that I felt sting my skin, the larger bits lodging themselves in my arm and cutting slashes into my face before I was able to dive out of the way and crawl my way into the hall.
I practically threw my body into the first open door I saw and slammed the door behind me. I ignored the new blood streaking my face and dripping down my arm and off the tips of my fingers and set to work blocking off the door. I'd found myself in the guest bedroom so I quickly pushed the small chest of drawers in front of the door. I had begun to throw the mattress from the bed against it and start pushing the frame against the whole mess when the sound of thunder matched perfectly with the sound of the first strike of its mallet against the door.
The door rattled in its hinges. I shoved the bed against it, pushing with all my might and ignoring the twinge of pain racing through my lower back. I scanned the room, frantically searching for another way out. Aside from the window at my back, there was nothing. I counted as I peered out the window, squinting into the darkness in search of the giant I'd seen earlier.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi
Thunder rumbled and my bedroom door buckled as the thing in the hall struck it with the mallet. I shrieked involuntarily. A crack ran down the door. I crouched down behind the nightstand and pressed against it. I couldn't stop the thing from breaking the door down, but maybe I could prevent it from getting into my bedroom by creating a barricade. Deep down, I knew it was a long shot. I knew that it wouldn't work. If it could break down the bedroom door, it could get through whatever furniture I piled in front of it.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi
This time, there was no thunder to mask the sound of the mallet hitting the door. The wood splintered, flying in all directions. I held up my hands, shielding my face from the flying debris. I turned and looked out the window again. I couldn't see the giant. Maybe I could still hide from it somewhere outside. Maybe it was as blind in the darkness as I was.
I ran to the window and fumbled with the locks. Behind me, the bedroom door shattered. A chunk of wood struck the back of my head so hard I saw stars. I stumbled, falling against the window hard enough to crack the glass. I regained my footing and turned.
The horned man knocked the furniture aside with ease. The dresser splintered, coming apart as if it was made out of fragile glass instead of sturdy wood. He stomped into the room, bits of wood crunching beneath his massive hooves. My head spun and my vision swam. His eyes glowed a bright, malevolent orange, and for the first time, I could see his face clearly.
I will never forget that face. It grinned down mercilessly at me. A thin red tongue flicked over rows of jagged, uneven teeth. Orange eyes blazed. I felt the crotch of my jeans grow warm and wet. I raised my hands feebly as the horned man hefted the mallet.
"Please - "
Pain shot through me as the mallet collided with my stomach, driving the wind out of me. I heard a faint crunching sound seconds before the window behind me shattered. I felt shards of glass sinking into my back as the force of the blow hurled me backwards. I gasped, trying to reclaim my lost breath.
I hit the ground so hard I saw stars and bright lights dancing at the edges of my vision. I gasped, trying desperately to suck air into my battered lungs. The last thing I saw before blacking out was those massive orange eyes floating in the air above my head. A huge hand reached down, its bony fingers extended towards me. I wanted to scream, but instead, blackness washed over me.
The first thing I saw when I woke up was red light. The ground beneath me felt hard and rough, and it took me a moment to realize that I wasn't lying in my grassy backyard. Oh God, I thought, I'm in Hell. I'm trapped in Hell. Tears streamed down my face as I struggled to lift my head.
"Don't try to move. You've been in a bad accident."
The voice was accompanied by a woman's face. She peered down at me with kind, gentle eyes. I looked around. I was lying in the street. At some point, the rain had let up, but the pavement was slick and shiny. Red and blue lights flashed. I looked around, trying to move my head as little as possible.
I could see an ambulance. People in EMT uniforms were walking back and forth, fetching items from it. At some point, I lost consciousness again. When I woke up for the second time, I was covered in a thick white blanket. I was in the back of a brightly-lit ambulance, and the woman I'd seen earlier was holding my hand. The harsh white lights made my eyes water.
"Shhh," whispered the woman, squeezing my hand reassuringly, "you're on your way to the hospital. Can you tell me your name?"
"There was a man," I said thickly. My voice was hoarse. "He was in my house. He had a mallet - "
She cut me off with another shushing sound. "No," she said calmly, "you were in your car. You had a very bad accident. Can you tell me your name?"
Dark spots had begun to appear at the edges of my vision. I couldn't remember my name. All I could think of was the horrible grinning face that had leered at me seconds before the mallet had collided with my stomach. The darkness swam over me again, and I could've sworn I heard faint laughter.
When I woke up for the third time, I was in a hospital. A different woman wearing a white lab coat was standing beside me. She told me that I'd been in a bad car accident. She told me that the storm had caused my car to spin out of control. I had apparently gone flying through the windshield and, although my back was broken and I'd probably never walk again, I was lucky to be alive.
I shook my head. "No," I told her. "That's not what happened. I was at home. A man broke in. He had a giant hammer. He attacked me. He pushed me out the bedroom window..."
My voice trailed off as the doctor shook her head. "A passing motorist found you," she said.
"That's impossible," I told her. "The giant must've moved me."
She arched an eyebrow. "The giant?"
"There was this giant outside my house," I said. "When I tried to escape from the man, it wrecked my car." She looked at me pityingly. "Send someone out to check my house," I told her. "The man with the mallet trashed it."
I told her the whole story. She listened patiently. "How much did you have to drink?" she asked. I groaned. Now she would think I was out driving drunk and that I was making up the story about the horned man and the giant.
"I had a couple beers," I said, "but I wasn't driving. I was already at home when I drank them."
She was flipping through a file, biting her lower lip nervously as she did so. "According to your tox screen, you were completely sober," she said. I stared at her, unable to comprehend. "You didn't have any alcohol in your system when you crashed your car."
She looked at me pensively. "Do you remember what happened before?" she asked.
"Before you were on your porch drinking beers and watching the thunderstorm."
I wracked my brain, but kept drawing a blank. I couldn't remember anything from that day. It was like a large, vacant spot in my mind. I have tried to convince myself that the horned man and the giant were figments of my imagination, my brain's way of trying to process the car accident. But now, every time I hear thunder, I look to the sky. And sometimes, when the lightning flashes, I see a giant pair of orange eyes leering down at me.