Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In which there is a knock on the door

There was a short story published a while ago in Thrilling Wonder Stories. It was by Fredric Brown - I like his stories. It was only two sentences, but to me, it was quite chilling:

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...

I don't know how long I have been in this city, but I know in all my time here I have not seen another living soul. Not until today.

There was a knock on the door.

Two simple knocks. That was it. I thought that perhaps I would open the door and there would be another package from A. Perhaps another riddle or another Biblical quotation to mull over. I went and opened the door.

There was someone outside.

Slowly, I stepped outside, one hand clutching my camera. Was this the elusive A? They wore a completely black outfit, including a hood that covered their face. "Hello, Hider," they said. I couldn't even tell from their voice if they were male or female - it sounded strange, the pitch a little too high for a man's voice, too low for a woman's.

"Why do you call me that?" I asked. "That's not my name."

"But it's who you are," they said. "You hide. You hide behind your name, behind your words, behind your pictures. One mustn't hide, not from oneself."

"Are you A?" I asked.

"I am," they said. "I am A and A am I. To deny it would be to deny that I exist. I exist, thus A equals A. I am that I am."

"Now you're quoting the Bible again," I said. "You're not God."

"I'm not?" A said. They titled their head and looked at me. "Then how is it I can come and go and you cannot? You are trapped here and I am free." They stepped closer, their feet making crunching sounds on the ground. "I have given you food and water. I have given you technology. And what have you given me? Disbelief. I don't think that's very fair, do you?"

"If you're a god, you're an awfully capricious one," I said.

"Of course," they said, stepping closer. "What else would the God of Humanity be? Capricious and willful and indifferent and cruel. All the qualities that humanity posssesses in abundance. But the God of Humanity would also be powerful and strong and able to adapt quickly." They stepped closer still and I raised the hand that held the camera. I was going to snap a picture, but they grabbed the camera out of my hand. "Now, now. I have given and I shall take away. Besides, you were wasted on it, taking snapshots of stone lions and fountains. You could have shown people the enormity of the City, the brilliance of this place, but you didn't. You don't deserve a camera." They dropped the camera on the ground and before I could try and stop them, they stomped on it, crushing the camera under their boot.

"What," I said, unable to comprehend what they had just done. My camera, which I had taken everywhere, was now cracked and broken on the ground.

"I did say that I was cruel." A leaned in closer and I could make out the shape of their face underneath their hood - round and thin, a face like any other. "Do you believe now?" A asked. They turned and started to walk away. "You should. Or else the next thing I step on might be you."

They opened a door and step through. I stepped forward, but the door closed and then vanished itself.

I kneeled down and carefully picked up all the pieces of the broken camera. Looking at them, I knew I could never repair it - it was so complex, if I had been younger, I might have thought it was magic. I picked up each piece and cupped them in my hands.

Then I walked back to my room and sat down.

I sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.

I jumped, then placed the broken camera on the table and walked towards the door. I opened it carefully, but there was nobody on the other side. But there was a note stuck to the door, a piece of spiral notebook that looked like it had been ripped haphazardly. On it was written:

I looked at the note, then closed the door again.

Sam Norton

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