It’s been snowing forever. Every time it seems like it’s about to let up, the sky clouds over with that flat white paper look and down it comes, more goddam snow.
I stopped shoveling the walk after the first two days. My dad was always real particular about his shoveling so I try to do the same but fuck, man. It was useless, I may as well have been that Greek guy with his boulder the way it piled up after I broke my damn back trying to clear a path. Told myself I’d do the neighborly thing and take care of it as soon as the thaw started but it hasn’t started yet so it seemed like the best idea to just stay inside and stay warm. Make some soup and drink some whiskey.
And, after last night, drink more whiskey. Kind of a lot of whiskey.
You might think that was the problem, the whiskey, but no. I mean, I was drunk, but a good drunk, the nice easy drunk that makes your head buzz in the funniest way. I hadn’t looked outside in a while; early on I’d pulled down one of the blinds to sneak a peek but saw only more fucking snow, the whole world was white and it was starting to piss me off so I let the blinds go with a little snapping sound that made me feel better for some reason. Like, yeah, take that, snow.
It was getting late but I wasn’t really paying attention to the time. I only knew it was dark out because I hadn’t moved from the couch to flip the lights when the gray-glow outside finally went down – you couldn’t say that the sun set, not really because it wasn’t out all day, it was hidden behind them damn thick snow clouds – and the living room was that weird kinda blue you get when your only source of light is a TV screen. I’d spent most of the day hopping from cable movie to cable movie, pretty bored but drunk enough by then that the sight of Goldie Hawn in “Overboard” wasn’t too rough on the eyes. She’s an annoying bitch in that one and she’s got a mouth like an insane person but she’s still pretty hot, so I’d settled in with a fresh glass of Jack (pants unzipped in case I felt frisky) and that was when the noises started.
Sort of quiet at first, so quiet I thought it was just snow or sleet hitting the windows. Then a little louder. Then, drunk or not I couldn’t ignore it: tap-tap-tap-tap.
I was right, it was at the window for sure but no snow makes a noise like that. After I really heard it the first time I waited to see if it was a fluke. But after a second, again: tap-tap-tap-tap.
Not fast or nothing, and not random either. Real deliberate. Tap-tap-tap-TAP. Same sound it makes when you drum your fingers on a table if you’re restless. Right on the widowpane of my porch window.
Someone was screwing with me, I was sure of it. Maybe pissed I hadn’t shoveled the walk yet. Out there, tapping on my window in the middle of a blizzard just to hock me off.
I waited another minute. I didn’t turn down “Overboard” in case they were listening close – didn’t want them to know I knew they were out there, I was gonna catch them off guard, see – and when I heard tap-tap-tap I snapped down one of the blinds, ready to make mean eyes at some punk kid or nosy neighbor.
Nothing out there, though.
Weird, too, because the tapping, it was on the glass right there, right behind those blinds.
I half-watched the movie for about 10 minutes, waiting for the tapping to start up again, but it didn’t. Pretty soon I’d drained half the glass of Jack and I was feeling okay again, a little jumpy I guess but it hadn’t really scared me, not yet.
It was just getting to the part where Goldie really gives it to that snooty teacher when I heard something else. It started quiet again, getting a little louder every minute until I couldn’t write off the noise on the storm. This time, I did mute the movie, and almost immediately wished I hadn’t.
It was this low voice – couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman but it was low – and it was talking. Only that’s not right because it wasn’t really saying anything, it wasn’t saying words, just sort of gibbering, a constant babble of sounds and wheezy grunts that meant nothing.
And it wasn’t like another language or anything either. Like, you know when you hear another language, and even though you can’t understand them you know they’re saying something? Maybe it’s the way they say it, I dunno, but this was different.
My dad had a stroke when I was a kid. We were out shopping for a gift for my mom’s birthday and I asked him if he wanted to look at cards and when he opened his mouth he started talking, but it wasn’t words, it was just garbled stuff, and he knew he wasn’t saying the right thing but he couldn’t fix it. I hadn’t thought of that in years but the sounds outside? They were like that. That’s the closest I can get.
Whatever it was heard me turn down the volume and got louder, gibbering like my dad that day in April, and for a horrible second I actually thought it was my dad’s voice, but he’s been dead a long time so there was no way, and it felt like as soon as I let go of that memory and that thought the gibbering sounded less like him until I was sure no, it wasn’t my dead dad out there on the porch in the snowstorm. I was drunk, like I said, and for a minute I felt kinda sad about that.
My head, it felt kinda funny too. Like I’d been watching TV in the dark too long. The buzzing that was nice earlier sounded more like hornets than bumblebees now. I finished the glass of whiskey, slammed it on the table, and looked through the blinds again.
Nothing out there. Snowing, still, harder than ever. But nothing on the porch. And right away, the gibbering stopped.
I don’t know why I looked like that. I should’ve been more careful, I didn’t know what could be out there, if it was a homeless guy or whatever trying to find a warm place to sleep in the storm but a part of me also knew it wasn’t a homeless guy and that I should’ve been more careful when I looked because homeless guys don’t sound like your dead dad no matter how drunk you are.
It was okay, though, because nothing was on the porch. But I didn’t unmute “Overboard” and I was pretty quick to get some more whiskey.
A few minutes went by – probably the same as before, if I really think about it – and now I heard something running, full-on running back and forth across the porch, something with big heavy footsteps and an awful lot of speed.
Every third run or so I’d hear it throw itself against the wooden banisters at either end of the porch. The wood would groan and whatever it was would let out some weird chuffing sound, not like it had knocked the wind out of itself, more like it was laughing.
I didn’t know what to do, I was too scared to look now and really wishing I hadn’t had so much to drink (or maybe that I’d had much, much more) but after the latest slam against the banister I thought I heard wood splinter and without thinking I yelled, “Hey, STOP!”
It did. It got real quiet. The phone was in the kitchen, I should’ve called the cops but it didn’t even cross my mind because then:
It was the same babbling voice from before, and it made my name sound like gibberish, like my name didn’t fit right in its mouth.
“Dannydannydannydanny.” It wasn’t running anymore, it sounded like it was shifting from foot to foot, back and forth back and forth, fast like when a kid gets hyper or has to pee. It was right outside the front door.
“Dannydannydannydanny are you sorry Dannydannydanny?” it said, and my stomach suddenly felt like it was full of cold mud. “Are you sorry Dannydannydanny you’re sorry aren’t you Dannydannydanny? Oh Dannydannydannydanny your daddy knows, oh yes Dannydannydanny your daddy’s here…”
It sounded like my dad again, yeah, but not really, the way a funhouse mirror looks like you but not really.
“Come outside Dannydannydanny,” it said, “daddy’s here, daddy’s back, Dannydannydannydanny, open the door, you forgot to shovel the walk Dannydannydanny, daddy’s awful mad at you…”
I looked down and I was standing at the door, reaching for the knob. I didn’t remember even getting off the couch, or setting my drink down, or zipping my pants back up.
“I didn’t forget to shovel,” I told it, stepping slowly away from the door. “I’m gonna do it when it stops snowing.”
“Oh Dannydannydanny,” it said, “don’t you know it’s never going to stop? Oh, aren’t you sorry, Dannydannydannydanny, you’re going to be so sorry if you don’t get out here and see your dad-deeeeeee…”
“My dad’s not out there.” I said this more to me than to whatever was on the porch. It felt good, like I was getting a handle on something, so I said it again. “My dad’s not out there, it’s the middle of a damn snowstorm and he’s been dead 15 years and I don’t know what you are but you’re not my dad.”
The gibbering started again. It stopped saying my name and went back to running back and forth across the porch like it was throwing a tantrum.
I dunno why it latched onto my dad. Maybe because he was the first thing I thought of? Maybe because I hadn’t thought about him in a long time? Like I said, I dunno, but I listened to it barreling across my porch, babbling sometimes in my dad’s voice, sometimes in the same low voice I heard first, sometimes something else entirely.
It ran back and forth on the porch for almost four hours. I never unmuted the TV, just stared at the blinds covering the windows to the porch and finished the bottle of Jack.
Finally, the sun came up. I mean, not really, the sky got ivory white and the sun was behind the clouds somewhere but the important part is it got light out and the thing stopped. I was pretty wasted by then but I waited another half hour, waited to be sure it was gone and the that morning had really made it go.
Remember how I said more whiskey? Kind of a lot of whiskey? Well, I meant it, I’m gonna need a lot more to get through this. Because well, I checked the weather report today, and another winter storm is coming through tonight. Up to six more inches by tomorrow morning. And the thing is, I don’t know if I’ll make it to tomorrow morning. That thing is gonna come back, it just is, and this time I don’t know what it’s gonna say but what I do know is that the first time it came, I almost opened the goddam door for it.
The other thing, the other reason I started drinking as soon as I woke up this afternoon, is what I saw before I finally passed out after my all-nighter with the whatever outside. What I saw when I finally did open the door and look at the porch.
The snow is deep, maybe up to my shins if I really get out there and wade in it, but it’s not so deep on the porch. Since it’s covered, you know. But there’s enough to leave tracks.
And the damndest thing is – there are tracks. But only hands.
No footprints. None at all. Just a hundred handprints, all over my snow-dusted porch, clear as day.
Sorry if this doesn’t make much sense. I’m drunk and it doesn’t make much sense to me either. But it’s gonna be dark soon and all I can think about is what’s coming back, what speaks in my dad’s voice, what walks on its hands in the snow in the night.
And you know what?
I am sorry.