Miss Devlin, the landlady of the rooming house, was awakened by the booming knocks on the front door. She got up unsteadily and put on her dressing-gown, before leaving her room at the top of the stairs and descending. The night was still warm from the summer day, but she felt an internal chill that made her wrap her arms about her trunk, pulling the gown tight.
At the foot of the stairs, she stopped and looked to the end of the hallway: there was someone through the frosted glass.
“Hello?” she called. “Who’s there?”
She checked her grandfather clock, which told her it was almost two in the morning. She looked to its left at the calendar in the hallway: Tuesday the 21st July 1914 had passed and they were now in the morning of Wednesday the 22nd.
It was then that Captain Cropper, a veteran of both Afghanistan and the Sudan, and dressed in white silk pyjamas and nightcap, came out of his room, No. 1, next to the clock.
“Miss Devlin,” he said, yawning and just barely covering it with his hand. “What’s the meaning of this racket?”
“I’m sorry, Captain,” said Miss Devlin, “but there’s someone at the door.”
“At this ungodly hour?” exclaimed the captain, pulling on his moustache.
“It would seem so.”
“Miss Devlin?” said a voice from above.
The landlady glanced up and saw that it was Miss Sharpe, the young secretary out of No. 6. “It’s okay, Dear,” she replied. “It’s just someone at the door.”
Miss Sharpe came down the stairs and joined the two, soon followed silently by Mr. Thomas, the accountant from No. 10.
The group of four at the bottom of the stairs did not move towards the front door as it was rapped on again.
Captain Cropper squinted. The dark shape beyond the glass was vaguely human, but he could not tell if it was male or female, wore a hat, or instead had a large coiffure. It was of average height, and not stirring.
“Do you know who it could be?” the captain asked Miss Devlin.
“Not a clue, Captain,” she replied.
“Could it be a relative of yours?”
“Certainly not; none of them lack the sense to call at such an hour. What about one of yours?”
“Heavens above, no!”
The group stood quietly again for a moment, staring. The figure knocked yet again, at which they all quivered.
“What about a friend of yours, Miss Sharpe?” asked Miss Devlin.
“Oh no, Miss Devlin,” said Miss Shape, going red enough to match her nightgown. “Not possible…at least I don’t believe so.”
“None of my people either could be so uncouth,” added Mr. Thomas unprompted, breaking his silence.
They returned to staring at the door, and the figure knocked for the fourth time.
“Who is there?” called Miss Devlin loudly, but the knocker made no sound, standing still.
“Should we not see who’s there?” asked Miss Sharpe.
“At this hour?” said the captain, irritably. “Don’t be so foolish, girl.”
At that Miss Sharpe grew redder still.
“It could be a policeman,” interjected Mr. Thomas. “We could all be committing an offence right now just by not opening the door.”
“Then why does he not respond when we call him?” asked Miss Devlin. “Surely he would have made his profession clear by now? The same if he were a fireman, or a soldier, or a chef, or a salesman…”
They all looked back at the door. The figure remained static.
“Let us assess the situation,” said the captain, having pulled his pipe out and lit it. “At two in the morning, in the middle of the week, someone has come to the door and knocked on, right?”
The other three nodded.
“This individual,” continued the captain, “does not respond to our calls for identification, and only seems to stand there waiting for the door to open. He is clearly not in distress or he would be knocking more often, as well as shouting and banging and so on…”
“Captain, where are you going with this?” asked Miss Devlin.
“There are two possibilities: the character behind that door means us either harm or some trivial nonsense which we all could do without. The other possibility is…”
The other three leaned in with anticipation.
“The other possibility…” struggled the captain, “is that that somebody does not really exist.”
“What?” asked Mr. Thomas. “Are you saying he’s some kind of apparition?”
“Of a kind, yes,” said the captain. “Consider it: all of us are insistent that we know no one who could perpetrate such a rude nocturnal intrusion. We also know that a person of authority who wanted our attention would identify himself as such. Ergo, either the individual knocking is a madman, or he is a complete phantasm, a mirage we have jointly dreamed up in the night.”
“I find the latter very hard to believe, man,” said Mr. Thomas. “I mean, we can all see that someone is there!” He pointed.
“You’re very welcome to open the door with your own key and take a look, Mr. Thomas,” replied the captain, puffing away.
Mr. Thomas began to walk down the hall, thought better of it, and returned to the others.
“I thought so,” grinned the captain.
“What do you suggest, Captain?” asked Miss Devlin.
“Well, my dear,” he replied, “I suggest that there is nothing we can do other than go back to bed and get a good night’s rest.”
“We should just leave everything and go back to sleep?” asked Miss Sharpe.
“Doubtlessly my girl,” said the captain. “What else could we do?”
They all did as Captain Cropper suggested, although Mr. Thomas did so with some reluctance, and bid their goodnights to each other.
Unbeknownst to the residents of the house, the figure at the door remained there until the break of day and then vanished forever. Less than a week later, the War began.
Along with previously in Frost Zone Zine, Harris Coverley has had short fiction most recently published in Hypnos, The Centropic Oracle, Once Upon A Crocodile, and Frontier Tales, amongst many others. He is also a member of the Weird Poets Society, with verse in Spectral Realms, Artifact Nouveau, Corvus Review, View From Atlantis, Horror Sleaze Trash, and elsewhere. He lives in Manchester, England.